I was prepared, in a measure, to meet with much looseness among military gentlemen, whose many vicissitudes and harassing calls on their temper and endurance may excuse a heat and vivacity of language that would not be fitting in an ordinary man. Indeed, my Uncle Scottos swore whenever his fancy pleased him. and no one ever thought the worse of him for that. But here were boys, none of them much older than myself, using oaths that fairly made my blood curdle, with all the assurance of a Field-Marshal at the least; and besides this, they did their best to make out they were practised in the blackest vices. Indeed, so ribald did they grow, that I felt it did not become me to sit quiet and listen to such wickedness.
The snow began to drift so fast, that before he had reached the head of the glen, there was nothing to be seen but a little bit of the wooden rail of the bridge across the Sauch-burn. William Grieve was the most active shepherd in a large pastoral parish; he had often passed the night among the wintry hills for the sake of a few sheep, and all the snow that ever fell from heaven would not have made him turn back when Hannah Lee was before him, and, as his terrified heart told him, in imminent danger of being lost. As he advanced, he felt that it was no longer a walk of love or friendship, for which he had been glad of an excuse. Death stared him in the face, and his young soul, now beginning to feel all the passions of youth, was filled with frenzy. He had seen Hannah every day,——at the fireside,——at work,——in the kirk,——on holidays,——at prayers,——bringing supper to his aged parents,——smiling and singing about the house from morning till night. She had often brought his own meal to him among the hills; and he now found that though he had never talked to her about love, except smilingly and playfully, he loved her beyond father or mother, or his own soul. “I will save thee, Hannah,” he cried, with a loud sob, “or lie down beside thee in the snow; and we will die together in our youth.” A wild, whistling wind went by him, and the snow-flakes whirled so fiercely around his head, that he staggered on for a while in utter blindness. He knew the path that Hannah must have taken, and went forward shouting aloud, and stopping every twenty yards to listen for a voice. He sent his well-trained dogs over the snow in all directions; repeating to them her name, “Hannah Lee,” that the dumb animals might, in their sagacity, know for whom they were searching; and as they looked up in his face, and set off to scour the moor, he almost believed that they knew his meaning (and it is probable they did), and were eager to find in her bewilderment the kind maiden by whose hand they had so often been fed. Often went they off into the darkness, and as often returned, but their looks showed that every quest had been in vain. Meanwhile the snow was of a fearful depth, and falling without intermission or diminution. Had the young shepherd been thus alone, walking across the moor on his ordinary business, it is probable that he might have been alarmed for his own safety; nay, that, in spite of all his strength and agility, he might have sunk down beneath the inclemency of the night and perished. But now the passion of his soul carried him with supernatural strength along, and extricated him from wreath and pitfall. Still there was no trace of poor Hannah Lee: and one of his dogs at last came close to his feet, worn out entirely, and afraid to leave its master; while the other was mute, and, as the shepherd thought, probably unable to force its way out of some hollow or through some floundering drift. Then he all at once knew that Hannah Lee was dead,——and dashed himself down in the snow in a fit of passion. It was the first time that the youth had ever been sorely tried; all his hidden and unconscious love for the fair lost girl had flowed up from the bottom of his heart; and at once the sole object which had blest his life and made him the happiest of the happy was taken away and cruelly destroyed, so that, sullen, wrathful, baffled, and despairing, there he lay, cursing his existence, and in too great agony to think of prayer. “God,” he then thought, “has forsaken me, and why should he think on me, when he suffers one so good and beautiful as Hannah to be frozen to death?” God thought both of him and of Hannah, and through his infinite mercy forgave the sinner in his wild turbulence of passion. William Grieve had never gone to bed without joining in prayer; and he revered the Sabbath day and kept it holy. Much is forgiven to the human heart by him who so fearfully framed it; and God is not slow to pardon the love which one human being bears to another, in his frailty, even though that love forget or arraign his own unsleeping providence. His voice has told us to love one another; and William loved Hannah in simplicity, innocence, and truth. That she should perish, was a thought so dreadful, that, in its agony, God seemed a ruthless being——“Blow——blow——blow, and drift us up forever,——we cannot be far asunder. O Hannah,——Hannah!——think ye not that the fearful God has forsaken us?”
This story of the activities of the early renegades of civilization, and of the river pirates who occupied the Cave bears upon its face the stamp of truth that fits neatly into practically all traditions from about 1795 to about 1820.
Roger Havering was a man of about forty, well set up and of smart appearance. His face, however, was haggard, and he was evidently labouring under great agitation.
“Go ahead,” I laughed. “I presume that it is a true story, not one of your efforts of fancy.”
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