The Story of Mary Brown

Peter Ramsay was an Inn Keeper and stabler that made a fortune. He died around 1783 and was the brother of my ancestor William Ramsay. He’s mentioned in The Story of Mary Brown from Wilson’s Tales of the Borders and of Scotland, Vol. XXIII. by Various (Part 2 out of 4). I thought I’d share this as it’s encountering this type of story that makes my genealogical research more interesting that the actual ancestry.

The Story of Mary Brown
If the reader of what I am going to relate for his or her edification,
or for perhaps a greater luxury, viz. wonder, should be so unreasonable
as to ask for my authority, I shall be tempted, because a little piqued,
to say that no one should be too particular about the source of
pleasure, inasmuch as, if you will enjoy nothing but what you can prove
to be a reality, you will, under good philosophical leadership, have no
great faith in the sun–a thing which you never saw, the existence of
which you are only assured of by a round figure of light on the back of
your eye, and which may be likened to tradition; so all you have to do
is to believe like a good Catholic, and be contented, even though I
begin so poorly as to try to interest you in two very humble beings who
have been dead for many years, and whose lives were like a steeple
without a bell in it, the intention of which you cannot understand till
your eye reaches the weathercock upon the top, and then you wonder at so
great an erection for so small an object. The one bore the name of
William Halket, a young man, who, eight or nine years before he became
of much interest either to himself or any other body, was what in our
day is called an Arab of the City–a poor street boy, who didn’t know
who his father was, though, as for his mother, he knew her by a pretty
sharp experience, insomuch as she took from him every penny he made by
holding horses, and gave him more cuffs than cakes in return. But Bill
got out of this bondage by the mere chance of having been taken a fancy
to by Mr. Peter Ramsay, innkeeper and stabler, in St. Mary’s Wynd (an
ancestor, we suspect, of the Ramsays of Barnton), who thought he saw in
the City Arab that love of horse-flesh which belongs to the Bedouin, and
who accordingly elevated him to the position of a stable-boy, with board
and as many shillings a week as there are days in that subdivision of
time.

Nor did William Halket–to whom for his merits we accord the full
Christian name–do any discredit to the perspicacity of his master, if
it was not that he rather exceeded the hopes of his benefactor, for he
was attentive to the horses, civil to the farmers, and handy at anything
that came in his way. Then, to render the connection reciprocal, William
was gratefully alive to the conviction that if he had not been, as it
were, taken from the street, the street might have been taken from him,
by his being locked up some day in the Heart of Midlothian. So things
went on in St. Mary’s Wynd for five or six years, and might have gone on
for twice that period, had it not been that at a certain hour of a
certain day William fell in love with a certain Mary Brown, who had come
on that very day to be an under-housemaid in the inn; and strange
enough, it was a case of “love at first sight,” the more by token that
it took effect the moment that Mary entered the stable with a glass of
whisky in her hand sent to him by Mrs. Ramsay. No doubt it is seldom
that a fine blooming young girl, with very pretty brown hair and very
blue eyes, appears to a young man with such a recommendation in her
hand; but we are free to say that the whisky had nothing to do with an
effect which is well known to be the pure result of the physical
attributes of the individual. Nay, our statement might have been proved
by the counterpart effect produced upon Mary herself, for she was struck
by William at the same moment when she handed him the glass; and we are
not to assume that the giving of a pleasant boon is always attended with
the same effect as the receiving of it.

But, as our story requires, it is the love itself between these two
young persons, whose fates were so remarkable, we have to do with–not
the causes, which are a mystery in all cases. Sure it is, humble in
position as they were, they could love as strongly, as fervently,
perhaps as ecstatically, as great people–nay, probably more so, for
education has a greater chance of moderating the passion than increasing
it; and so, notwithstanding of what Plutarch says of the awfully
consuming love between Phrygius and Picrea, and also what Shakespeare
has sung or said about a certain Romeo and a lady called Juliet, we are
certain that the affection between these grand personages was not _more_
genuine, tender, and true, than that which bound the simple and
unsophisticated hearts of Will Halket and Mary Brown. But at best we
merely play on the surface of a deep subject when we try with a pen to
describe feelings, and especially the feelings of love. We doubt, if
even the said pen were plucked from Cupid’s wing, whether it would help
us much. We are at best only left to a choice of expressions, and
perhaps the strongest we could use are those which have already been
used a thousand times–the two were all the world to each other, the
world outside nothing at all to them; so that they could have been as
happy on the top of Mount Ararat, or on the island of Juan Fernandez,
provided they should be always in each other’s company, as they were in
St. Mary’s Wynd. And as for whispered protestations and chaste kisses–
for really their love had a touch of romance about it you could hardly
have expected, but which yet kept it pure, if not in some degree
elevated above the loves of common people–these were repeated so often
about the quiet parts of Arthur’s Seat and the King’s Park, and the
fields about the Dumbiedykes and Duddingstone Loch, that they were the
very moral aliments on which they lived. In short, to Mary Brown the
great Duke of Buccleuch was as nothing compared to Willie Halket, and to
Willie Halket the beautiful Duchess of Grammont would have been as
nothing compared to simple Mary Brown. All which is very amiable and
very necessary; for if it had been so ordained that people should feel
the exquisite sensations of love in proportion as they were beautiful,
or rich, or endowed with talent (according to a standard), our world
would have been even more queer than that kingdom described by Gulliver,
where the ugliest individual is made king or queen.

Things continued in this very comfortable state at the old inn in St.
Mary’s Wynd for about a year, and it had come to enter into the
contemplation of Will that upon getting an increase of his wages he
would marry Mary, and send her to live with her mother, a poor,
hard-working washerwoman, in Big Lochend Close; whereunto Mary was so
much inclined, that she looked forward to the day as the one that
promised to be the happiest that she had yet seen, or would ever see.
But, as an ancient saying runs, the good hour is in no man’s choice; and
about this time it so happened that Mr. Peter Ramsay, having had a
commission from an old city man, a Mr. Dreghorn, located as a planter in
Virginia, to send him out a number of Scottish horses, suggested to
William that he would do well to act as supercargo and groom. Mr.
Dreghorn had offered to pay a good sum to the man who should bring them
out safe, besides paying his passage over and home. And Mr. Ramsay would
be ready to receive Will into his old place again on his return. As for
Mary, with regard to whom the master knew his man’s intentions, she
would remain where she was, safe from all temptation, and true to the
choice of her heart. This offer pleased William, because he saw that he
could make some money out of the adventure, whereby he would be the
better able to marry, and make a home for the object of his affections;
but he was by no means sure that Mary would consent; for women, by some
natural divining of the heart, look upon delays in affairs of love as
ominous and dangerous. And so it turned out that one Sabbath evening,
when they were seated beneath a tree in the King’s Park, and William had
cautiously introduced the subject to her, she was like other women.

“The bird that gets into the bush,” she said, as the tears fell upon her
cheeks, “sometimes forgets to come back to the cage again. I would
rather hae the lean lintie in the hand, than the fat finch on the wand.”

“But you forget, Mary, love,” was the answer of Will, “that you can feed
the lean bird, but you can’t feed me. It is I who must support you. It
is to enable me to do that which induces me to go. I will come with
guineas in my pocket where there are now only pennies and placks; and
you know, Mary, the Scotch saying, ‘A heavy purse makes a light heart.'”

“And an unsteady one,” rejoined Mary. “And you may bring something else
wi’ you besides the guineas; maybe a wife.”

“One of Mr. Dreghorn’s black beauties,” said Will, laughing. “No, no,
Mary, I am too fond of the flaxen ringlets, the rosy cheeks, and the
blue eyes; and you know, Mary, you have all these, so you have me in
your power. But to calm your fears, and stop your tears, I’ll tell you
what I’ll do.”

“Stay at hame, Will, and we’ll live and dee thegither.”

“No,” replied Will; “but, like the genteel lover I have read of, I will
swear on your Bible that I will return to you within the year, and marry
you at the Tron Kirk, and throw my guineas into the lap of your
marriage-gown, and live with you until I die.”

For all which and some more we may draw upon our fancy; but certain it
is, as the strange story goes, that Will did actually then and
there–for Mary had been at the Tron Kirk, and had her Bible in her
pocket (an article, the want of which is not well supplied by the
scent-bottle of our modern Maries)–swear to do all he had said,
whereupon Mary was so far satisfied that she gave up murmuring–perhaps
no more than that. Certain also it is, that before the month was done,
Will, with his living, kicking charges, and after more of these said
tears from Mary than either of them had arithmetic enough to enable them
to count, embarked at Leith for Richmond, at which place the
sugar-planter had undertaken to meet him.

We need say nothing of the voyage across the Atlantic, somewhat arduous
at that period, nor need we pick up Will again till we find him in
Richmond, with his horses all safe, and as fat and sleek as if they had
been fed by Neptune’s wife, and had drawn her across in place of her own
steeds. There he found directions waiting from Mr. Dreghorn, to the
effect that he was to proceed with the horses to Peach Grove, his
plantation, a place far into the heart of the country. But Will was
content; for had he not time and to spare within the year, and he would
see some more of the new world, which, so far as his experience yet
went, seemed to him to be a good place for a freeman to live in? So off
he went, putting up at inns by the way, as well supplied with food and
fodder as Mr. Peter Ramsay’s, in St. Mary’s Wynd, and showing off his
nags to the planters, who wondered at their bone and muscle, the more by
reason they had never seen Scotch horses before. As he progressed, the
country seemed to Will more and more beautiful, and by the time he
reached Peach Grove he had come to the unpatriotic conclusion that all
it needed was Mary Brown, with her roses, and ringlets, and eyes,
passing like an angel–lovers will be poets–among these ebon beauties,
to make it the finest country in the world.

Nor when the Scotsman reached Peach Grove did the rosy side of matters
recede into the shady; for he was received in a great house by Mr.
Dreghorn with so much kindness, that, if the horses rejoiced in maize
and oats, Will found himself, as the saying goes, in five-bladed clover.
But more awaited him, even thus much more, that the planter, and his
fine lady of a wife as well, urged him to remain on the plantation,
where he would be well paid and well fed; and when Will pleaded his
engagement to return to Scotland within the year, the answer was ready,
that he might spend eight months in Virginia at least, which would
enable him to take home more money,–an answer that seemed so very
reasonable, if not prudent, that “Sawny” saw the advantage thereof and
agreed. But we need hardly say that this was conceded upon the condition
made with himself, that he would write to Mary all the particulars, and
also upon the condition, acceded to by Mr. Dreghorn, that he would take
the charge of getting the letter sent to Scotland.

All which having been arranged, Mr. Halket–for we cannot now continue
to take the liberty of calling him Will–was forthwith elevated to the
position of driving negroes in place of horses, an occupation which he
did not much relish, insomuch that he was expected to use the lash, an
instrument of which he had been very chary in his treatment of
four-legged chattels, and which he could not bring himself to apply with
anything but a sham force in reference to the two-legged species. But
this objection he thought to get over by using the sharp crack of his
Jehu-voice as a substitute for that of the whip; and in this he
persevered, in spite of the jeers of the other drivers, who told him the
thing had been tried often, but that the self-conceit of the negro met
the stimulant and choked it at the very entrance to the ear; and this he
soon found to be true. So he began to do as others did; and he was the
sooner reconciled to the strange life into which he had been
precipitated by the happy condition of the slaves themselves, who, when
their work was over, and at all holiday hours, dressed themselves in the
brightest colours of red and blue and white, danced, sang, ate
corn-cakes and bacon, and drank coffee with a zest which would have done
a Scotch mechanic, with his liberty to produce a lock-out, much good to
see. True, indeed, the white element of the population was at a discount
at Peach Grove. But in addition to the above source of reconciliation,
Halket became day by day more captivated by the beauty of the country,
with its undulating surface, its wooded clumps, its magnolias,
tulip-trees, camellias, laurels, passion-flowers, and palms, its
bright-coloured birds, and all the rest of the beauties for which it is
famous all over the world. But nature might charm as it might–Mary
Brown was three thousand miles away.

Meanwhile the time passed pleasantly, for he was accumulating money;
Mary’s letter would be on the way, and the hope of seeing her within the
appointed time was dominant over all the fascinations which charmed the
senses. But when the month came in which he ought to have received a
letter, no letter came–not much this to be thought of, though Mr.
Dreghorn tried to impress him with the idea that there must be some
change of sentiment in the person from whom he expected the much-desired
answer. So Halket wrote again, giving the letter, as before, to his
master, who assured him it was sent carefully away; and while it was
crossing the Atlantic he was busy in improving his penmanship and
arithmetic, under the hope held out to him by his master that he would,
if he remained, be raised to a book-keeper’s desk; for the planter had
seen early that he had got hold of a long-headed, honest, sagacious
“Sawny,” who would be of use to him. On with still lighter wing the
intermediate time sped again, but with no better result in the shape of
an answer from her who was still the object of his day fancies and his
midnight dreams. Nor did all this kill his hope. A third letter was
despatched, but the returning period was equally a blank. We have been
counting by months, which, as they sped, soon brought round the
termination of his year, and with growing changes too in himself; for as
the notion began to worm itself into his mind that his beloved Mary was
either dead or faithless, another power was quietly assailing him from
within,–no other than ambition in the most captivating of all
shapes–Mammon. We all know the manner in which the golden deity
acquires his authority; nor do we need to have recourse to the conceit
of the old writer who tells us that the reason why gold has such an
influence upon man, lies in the fact that it is of the colour of the
sun, which is the fountain of light, and life, and joy. Certain it is,
at least, that Halket having been taken into the counting-house on a
raised salary, began “to lay by,” as the Scotch call it; and by-and-by,
with the help of a little money lent to him by his master, he began by
purchasing produce from the neighbouring plantations, and selling it
where he might,–all which he did with advantage, yet with the ordinary
result to a Scotsman, that while he turned to so good account the king’s
head, the king’s head began to turn his own.

And now in place of months we must begin to count by lustrums; and the
first five years, even with all the thoughts of his dead, or, at least,
lost Mary, proved in Halket’s case the truth of the book written by a
Frenchman, to prove that man is a plant; for he had already thrown out
from his head or heart so many roots in the Virginian soil that he was
bidding fair to be as firmly fixed in his new sphere as a magnolia, and
if that bore golden blossoms, so did he; yet, true to his first love,
there was not among all these flowers one so fair as the fair-haired
Mary. Nay, with all hope not yet extinguished, he had even at the end of
the period resolved upon a visit to Scotland, when, strangely enough,
and sadly too, he was told by Mr. Dreghorn, that having had occasion to
hear from Mr. Peter Ramsay on the subject of some more horse-dealings,
that person had reported to him that Mary Brown, the lover of his old
stable-boy, was dead. A communication this which, if it had been made at
an earlier period, would have prostrated Halket altogether, but it was
softened by his long foreign anticipations, and he was thereby the more
easily inclined to resign his saddened soul to the further dominion of
the said god, Mammon; for, as to the notion of putting any of those
beautiful half-castes he sometimes saw about the planter’s house at
Peach Grove, in the place of her of the golden ringlets, it was nothing
better than the desecration of a holy temple. Then the power of the god
increased with the offerings, one of which was his large salary as
manager, a station to which he was elevated shortly after he had
received the doleful tidings of Mary’s death. Another lustrum is added,
and we arrive at ten years; and yet another, and we come to fifteen; at
the end of which time Mr. Dreghorn died, leaving Halket as one of his
trustees, for behoof of his wife, in whom the great plantation vested.
If we add yet another lustrum, we find the Scot–fortunate, save for one
misfortune that made him a joyless worshipper of gold–purchasing from
the widow, who wished to return to England, the entire plantation under
the condition of an annuity.

And Halket was now rich, even beyond what he had ever wished; but the
chariot-wheels of Time would not go any slower–nay, they moved faster,
and every year more silently, as if the old Father had intended to cheat
the votary of Mammon into a belief that he would live for ever. The
lustrums still passed: another five, another, and another, till there
was scope for all the world being changed, and a new generation taking
the place of that with which William Halket and Mary Brown began. And he
was changed too, for he began to take on those signs of age which make
the old man a painted character; but in one thing he was not changed,
and that was the worshipful stedfastness, the sacred fidelity, with
which he still treasured in his mind the form and face, the words and
the smiles, the nice and refined peculiarities that feed love as with
nectared sweets, which once belonged to Mary Brown, the first creature
that had moved his affections, and the last to hold them, as the object
of a cherished memory for ever. Nor with time, so deceptive, need we be
so sparing in dealing out those periods of five years, but say at once
that at last William Halket could count twelve of them since first he
set his foot on Virginian soil; yea, he had been there for sixty
summers, and he had now been a denizen of the world for seventy-eight
years. In all which our narrative has been strange, but we have still
the stranger fact to set forth, that at this late period he was seized
with that moral disease (becoming physical in time) which the French
call _mal du pays_, the love of the country where one was born, and
first enjoyed the fresh springs that gush from the young heart. Nor was
it the mere love of country, as such, for he was seized with a
particular wish to be where Mary lay in the churchyard of the Canongate,
to erect a tombstone over her, to seek out her relations and enrich
them, to make a worship out of a disappointed love, to dedicate the last
of his thoughts to the small souvenirs of her humble life. Within a
month this old man was on his way to Scotland, having sold the
plantation, and taken bills with him to an amount of little less than a
hundred thousand pounds.

In the course of five weeks William Halket put his foot on the old pier
of Leith, on which some very old men were standing, who had been urchins
when he went away. The look of the old harbour revived the image which
had been imprinted on his mind when he sailed, and the running of the
one image into the other produced the ordinary illusion of all that long
interval appearing as a day; but there was no illusion in the change,
that Mary Brown was there when he departed, and there was no Mary Brown
there now. Having called a coach, he told the driver to proceed up Leith
Walk, and take him to Peter Ramsay’s inn, in St. Mary’s Wynd; but the
man told him there was no inn there, nor had been in his memory. The man
added that he would take him to the White Horse in the Canongate, and
thither accordingly he drove him. On arriving at the inn, he required
the assistance of the waiter to enable him to get out of the coach; nor
probably did the latter think this any marvel, after looking into a face
so furrowed with years, so pale with the weakness of a languid
circulation, so saddened with care. The rich man had only an inn for a
home, nor in all his native country was there one friend whom he hoped
to find alive. Neither would a search help him, as he found on the
succeeding day, when, by the help of his staff, he essayed an infirm
walk in the great thoroughfare of the old city. The houses were not much
altered, but the signboards had got new names and figures; and as for
the faces, they were to him even as those in Crete to the Cretan, after
he awoke from a sleep of forty-seven years–a similitude only true in
this change, for Epimenidas was still as young when he awoke as when he
went to sleep, but William Halket was old among the young and the grown,
who were unknown to him, as he was indeed strange to them. True, too, as
the coachman said, Peter Ramsay’s inn, where he had heard Mary singing
at her work, and the stable where he had whistled blithely among his
favourite horses, were no longer to be seen–_etiam cineres
perierunt_–their very sites were occupied by modern dwellings. What of
that small half-sunk lodging in Big Lochend Close, where Mary’s mother
lived, and where Mary had been brought up, where perhaps Mary had died?
Would it not be a kind of pilgrimage to hobble down the Canongate to
that little lodging, and might there not be for him a sad pleasure even
to enter and sit down by the same fireplace where he had seen the
dearly-beloved face, and listened to her voice, to him more musical than
the melody of angels?

And so, after he had walked about till he was wearied, and his steps
became more unsteady and slow, and as yet without having seen a face
which he knew, he proceeded in the direction of the Big Close. There
was, as regards stone and lime, little change here; he soon recognised
the half-sunk window where, on the Sunday evenings, he had sometimes
tapped as a humorous sign that he was about to enter, which had often
been responded to by Mary’s finger on the glass, as a token that he
would be welcome. It was sixty years since then. A small corb would now
hold all that remained of both mother and daughter. He turned away his
head as if sick, and was about to retrace his steps. Yet the wish to
enter that house rose again like a yearning; and what more in the world
than some souvenir of the only being on earth he ever loved was there
for him to yearn for? All his hundred thousand pounds were now, dear as
money had been to him, nothing in comparison of the gratification of
seeing the room where she was born–yea, where probably she had died. In
as short a time as his trembling limbs would carry him down the stair,
which in the ardour of his young blood he had often taken at a bound, he
was at the foot of it. There was there the old familiar dark passage,
with doors on either side, but it was the farthest door that was of any
interest to him. Arrived at it, he stood in doubt. He would knock, and
he would not; the mystery of an undefined fear was over him; and yet,
what had he to fear? For half a century the inmates had been changed, no
doubt, over and over again, and he would be as unknowing as unknown. At
length the trembling finger achieves the furtive tap, and the door was
opened by a woman, whose figure could only be seen by him in coming
between him and the obscure light that came in by the half-sunk window
in front; nor could she, even if she had had the power of vision, see
more of him, for the lobby was still darker.

“Who may live here?” said he, in the expectation of hearing some name
unknown to him.

The answer, in a broken, cracked voice, was not slow–

“Mary Brown; and what may you want of her?”

“Mary Brown!” but not a word more could he say, and he stood as still as
a post; not a movement of any kind did he show for so long a time that
the woman might have been justified in her fear of a very spirit.

“And can ye say nae mair, sir?” rejoined she. “Is my name a bogle to
terrify human beings?”

But still he was silent, for the reason that he could not think, far
less speak, nor even for some minutes could he achieve more than the
repetition of the words, “Mary Brown.”

“But hadna ye better come in, good sir?” said she. “Ye may ken our auld
saying, ‘They that speak in the dark may miss their mark;’ for words
carry nae light in their een ony mair than me, for, to say the truth, I
am old and blind.”

And, moving more as an automaton than as one under a will, Halket was
seated on a chair, with this said old and blind woman by his side, who
sat silent and with blank eyes waiting for the stranger to explain what
he wanted. Nor was the opportunity lost by Halket, who, unable to
understand how she should have called herself Mary Brown, began, in the
obscure light of the room, to scrutinize her form and features; and in
doing this, he went upon the presumption that this second Mary Brown
only carried the name of the first; but as he looked he began to detect
features which riveted his eyes; where the reagent was so sharp and
penetrating, the analysis was rapid–it was also hopeful–it was also
fearful. Yes, it was true that that woman was _his_ Mary Brown. The
light-brown ringlets were reduced to a white stratum of thin hair; the
blue eyes were grey, without light and without speculation; the roses on
the cheeks were replaced by a pallor, the forerunner of the colour of
death; the lithe and sprightly form was a thin spectral body, where the
sinews appeared as strong cords, and the skin seemed only to cover a
skeleton. Yet, withal, he saw in her that identical Mary Brown. That
wreck was dear to him; it was a relic of the idol he had worshipped
through life; it was the only remnant in the world which had any
interest for him; and he could on the instant have clasped her to his
breast, and covered her pale face with his tears. But how was he to act?
A sudden announcement might startle and distress her.

“There was once a Mary Brown,” said he, “who was once a housemaid in Mr.
Peter Ramsay’s inn in St. Mary’s Wynd.”

“And who can it be that can recollect that?” was the answer, as she
turned the sightless orbs on the speaker. “Ye maun be full o’ years.
Yes, that was my happy time, even the only happy time I ever had in this
world.”

“And there was one William Halket there at that time also,” he
continued.

Words which, as they fell upon the ear, seemed to be a stimulant so
powerful as to produce a jerk in the organ; the dulness of the eyes
seemed penetrated with something like light, and a tremor passed over
her entire frame.

“That name is no to be mentioned, sir,” she said nervously, “except
aince and nae mair; he was my ruin; for he pledged his troth to me, and
promised to come back and marry me, but he never came.”

“Nor wrote you?” said Halket.

“No, never,” replied she; “I would hae gien the world for a scrape o’
the pen o’ Will Halket; but it’s a’ past now, and I fancy he is dead and
gone to whaur there is neither plighted troth, nor marriage, nor giving
in marriage; and my time, too, will be short.”

A light broke in upon the mind of Halket, carrying the suspicion that
Mr. Dreghorn had, for the sake of keeping him at Peach Grove, never
forwarded the letters, whereto many circumstances tended.

“And what did you do when you found Will had proved false?” inquired
Halket. “Why should that have been your ruin?”

“Because my puir heart was bound up in him,” said she, “and I never
could look upon another man. Then what could a puir woman do? My mother
died, and I came here to work as she wrought–ay, fifty years ago, and
my reward has been the puir boon o’ the parish bread; ay, and waur than
a’ the rest, blindness.”

“Mary!” said Halket, as he took her emaciated hand into his, scarcely
less emaciated, and divested of the genial warmth.

The words carried the old sound, and she started and shook.

“Mary,” he continued, “Will Halket still lives. He was betrayed, as you
have been betrayed. He wrote three letters to you, all of which were
kept back by his master, for fear of losing one who he saw would be
useful to him; and, to complete the conspiracy, he reported you dead
upon the authority of Peter Ramsay. Whereupon Will betook himself to the
making of money; but he never forgot his Mary, whose name has been heard
as often as the song of the birds in the groves of Virginia.”

“Ah, you are Will himself!” cried she. “I ken now the sound o’ your
voice in the word ‘Mary,’ even as you used to whisper it in my ear in
the fields at St. Leonard’s. Let me put my hand upon your head, and move
my fingers ower your face. Yes, yes. Oh, mercy, merciful God, how can my
poor worn heart bear a’ this!”

“Mary, my dear Mary!” ejaculated the moved man, “come to my bosom and
let me press you to my heart; for this is the only blissful moment I
have enjoyed for sixty years.”

Nor was Mary deaf to his entreaties, for she resigned herself as in a
swoon to an embrace, which an excess of emotion, working on the
shrivelled heart and the wasted form, probably prevented her from
feeling.

“But, oh, Willie!” she cried, “a life’s love lost; a lost life on both
our sides.”

“Not altogether,” rejoined he, in the midst of their mutual sobs. “It
may be–nay, it is–that our sands are nearly run. Yea, a rude shake
would empty the glass, so weak and wasted are both of us; but still
there are a few grains to pass, and they shall be made golden. You are
the only living creature in all this world I have any care for. More
thousands of pounds than you ever dreamt of are mine, and will be yours.
We will be married even yet, not as the young marry, but as those marry
who may look to their knowing each other as husband and wife in heaven,
where there are no cruel, interested men to keep them asunder; and for
the short time we are here you shall ride in your carriage as a lady,
and be attended by servants; nor shall a rude breath of wind blow upon
you which it is in the power of man to save you from.”

“Ower late, Willie, ower late,” sighed the exhausted woman, as she still
lay in his arms. “But if all this should please my Will–I canna use
another name, though you are now a gentleman–I will do even as you
list, and that which has been by a cruel fate denied us here we may
share in heaven.”

“And who shall witness this strange marriage?” said he. “There is no one
in Edinburgh now that I know or knows me. Has any one ever been kind to
you?”

“Few, few indeed,” answered she. “I can count only three.”

“I must know these wonderful exceptions,” said he, as he made an attempt
at a grim smile; “for those who have done a service to Mary Brown have
done a double service to me. I will make every shilling they have given
you a hundred pounds. Tell me their names.”

“There is John Gilmour, my landlord,” continued she, “who, though he
needed a’ his rents for a big family, passed me many a term, and forbye
brought me often, when I was ill and couldna work, many a bottle o’
wine; there is Mrs. Paterson o’ the Watergate, too, who aince, when I
gaed to her in sair need, gave me a shilling out o’ three that she
needed for her bairns; and Mrs. Galloway, o’ Little Lochend, slipt in to
me a peck o’ meal ae morning when I had naething for breakfast.”

“And these shall be at our marriage, Mary,” said he. “They shall be
dressed to make their eyes doubtful if they are themselves. John Gilmour
will wonder how these pounds of his rent he passed you from have grown
to hundreds; Mrs. Paterson’s shilling will have grown as the widow’s
mite never grew, even in heaven; and Mrs. Galloway’s peck of meal will
be made like the widow’s cruse of oil–it will never be finished while
she is on earth.”

Whereupon Mary raised her head. The blank eyes were turned upon him, and
something like a smile played over the thin and wasted face. At the same
moment a fair-haired girl of twelve years came jumping into the room,
and only stopped when she saw a stranger.

“That is Helen Kemp,” said Mary, who knew her movements. “I forgot
Helen; she lights my fire, and when I was able to gae out used to lead
me to the Park.”

“And she shall be one of the favoured ones of the earth,” said he, as he
took by the hand the girl, whom the few words from Mary had made sacred
to him, adding, “Helen, dear, you are to be kinder to Mary than you have
ever been;” and, slipping into the girl’s hand a guinea, he whispered,
“You shall have as many of these as will be a bigger tocher to you than
you ever dreamed of, for what you have done for Mary Brown.”

And thus progressed to a termination a scene, perhaps more extraordinary
than ever entered into the head of a writer of natural things and events
not beyond the sphere of the probable. Nor did what afterwards took
place fall short of the intentions of a man whose intense yearnings to
make up for what had been lost led him into the extravagance of a vain
fancy. He next day took a great house, and forthwith furnished it in
proportion to his wealth. He hired servants in accordance, and made all
the necessary arrangements for the marriage. Time, which had been so
cruel to him and his sacred Mary, was put under the obligation of
retribution. John Gilmour, Mrs. Paterson, Mrs. Galloway, and Helen Kemp
were those, and those alone, privileged to witness the ceremony. We
would not like to describe how they were decked out, nor shall we try to
describe the ceremony itself. But vain are the aspirations of man when
he tries to cope with the Fates! The changed fortune was too much for
the frail and wasted bride to bear. She swooned at the conclusion of the
ceremony, and was put into a silk-curtained bed. Even the first glimpse
of grandeur was too much for the spirit whose sigh was “vanity, all is
vanity,” and, with the words on her lips, “A life’s love lost,” she
died.

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