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future were prophetically revealed. Maidens, therefore, repaired to its hallowed shrine at the midnight's 'witching hour to consult the holy oracle as to their future destiny; and lovers plighted, with bated breath, their solemn troth, and vowed to heaven their unchanged and unchangeable love.
Mary Armstrong, the butler's daughter, was as pretty and coquettish a blonde as there was in all the Howe of Strath
Her dress, though plain, as became her station, was always neat and becoming, and the simple drapery so artfully arranged that her graceful and handsome figure was always displayed to the best advantage. No one, however, of even ordinary perception but could detect in the pouting lip and roguish eye the confirmed trifler, and coquettish Love, according to the ordinary acceptation of his infirmities, being “blind," could not in consequence perceive these flagrant defects in her character; and so her numerous and ardent wooers went round and round the charmed circle in which she moved as if drawn unresistingly by the potent magnet of her magical influence.
This hollow device could not, however, last long, for, although the jilted seldom confess their discomfiture in words, yet their dejected appearance betrays their chagrin, and their actions evince either their disappointment or passive disgust. Misfortunes, it is said, make one acquainted with strange bedfellows; and so it turned out in this case. The powerful loadstone of sympathy had, from the same cause, mysteriously attracted two apparently very opposite characters together.
The miller's son had been an enthusiastic and constant wooer of the butler's daughter; but he, in his turn, had been cruelly cast off by the versatile maiden, when she became tired of his importunate addresses. Thereafter her cap was set to catch higher game, and her affections, such as they were, without the least hesitation or compunction, were immediately transferred to the eldest son of the worthy minister—an equally ardent admirer of Mary, whose reign over her heart, however, comprehended even a briefer space
than that enjoyed by his more lowly, yet not less passionate and persistent rival.
The two cast-off wooers having accidentally met one autumn evening at the Market Muir, they proceeded homewards to the village together.
“You seem very dull to-day, Jamie," said the minister's son, after the two friends had walked a considerable distance in company, without exchanging any words, except the mere formal compliments of the day. “What is the matter with you, my man ? You are not like yourself at all, Jamie.”
“I think there's a pair o us." replied Jamie. “You havena spoken a word yoursel,' Maister Alfred, for the last twenty minutes. This is no your usual way—you are hearty and cheerfu' wi' high and low, rich and poor.”
“When did you see the butler's daughter ?” quietly rejoined Alfred, unheeding the remarks regarding himself.
“No for some time,” said Jamie, blushing. “Fan did ye see her yersel', Maister Alfred ? It's said you are the favourite noo in that quarter ; but, depend upon it, she'll jilt you some o' these days in as cruel a manner as
“She has jilted you," interrupted Alfred. “ The fact is, Jamie," he continued, “we are two great fools to be imposed
, upon as we have been by such a gay, giddy, heartless imp; and I am resolved-firmly resolved to be revenged,” concluded Alfred, in a semi-comic, theatrical manner, his voice rising ominously at the same time several octaves above its natural compass.
“Fat's that you say, Maister Alfred ? ” quickly replied his companion. “You're no to bring the lassie to ony harm, surely? Wranged me sair as she has dune, I widna allow a single hair o' her head to be touched wi' ill intent, if I could help it, for, to tell the honest truth, Maister Alfred” —wiping at the same time away with his sleeve the tale-telling tear that was gathering-“I hae a soft place in my heart for Mary yet.”
“You have quite mistaken my meaning,” said Alfred,
half-laughing at the comical appearance assumed by his partner in distress. “I would not lift a finger to injure her personally. The revenge I spoke of is of a different kind. Instead of harm, I wish the maiden, good, Jamie, and still have my revenge in a way you wot not of.”
The ice being now fairly broken, like ships in distress, they sympathetically bore away to the nearest friendly port for the necessary repairs to enable them to continue their voyage. During their cruise homewards, Alfred confided to his shipwrecked ally a scheme he had deliberately formed with the object, at the same time, to avenge their mutual wrongs, and to bring about the reformation of the offending maiden—the well-known and confessed cause of all their misfortunes. The scheme partook somewhat of those practical yet questionable frolics indulged in by Alfred and his fellowstudents at the University of St Andrews ; but as the parties most interested in carrying out its execution were perfectly satisfied of its capabilities to ensure success, it is certainly no business of ours to question its propriety.
Alfred was not long in meeting Mary Armstrong, and as she did not in reality wish to cast eventually off such a coveted prize as the minister's son, she willingly permitted Alfred to accompany her home. During their walk to the Castle, Alfred, pretending to forget his defeat, like a skilful general endeavoured to make the most of his present opportunity, and began the siege anew. With this view, he renewed his “rejected addresses ”-skilfully cautious, however, not to betray himself by promises he really never meant to fulfil. The consequence was that Mary, still coy and coquettish as her wont, was cleverly drawn by Alfred into making a solemn promise to refer the matter of her destiny to the oracle at St Orland's Stone.
Jamie, having been duly apprised of the engagement, lay down, with some trepidation and misgiving, in a neighbouring hollow on the appointed night, to await the mysterious issue, while Alfred busied himself in covering the Stone with
a large linen sheet, seating himself, when he had draped it in white, on the side of the pillar opposite to that by which the maiden would approach the Stone.
It was a gusty, moonlight night, at the witching hour when spirits haunt the air, and demons roam abroad on the earth. The Queen of Night rode ominously on her silver chariot in a troubled and changing sky, and the fitful winds chimed sad and mournfully among the leafless trees. Mary had almost approached the stone unobserved by the watchers, when the moon, suddenly bursting through a black, driving cloud, disclosed her beautiful form in the suppliant attitude of a devout worshipper, solemnly invoking the assistance and presence of the Oracle of St Orland. Awaiting the expected response, she wistfully raised her eyes, when, instead of the well-known sculptured pillar, she wildly shrieked on beholding what to her excited imagination, appeared to be a denizen in reality of the other world. Her fears of the future augmented, as a hoarse, unearthly voice prophetically exclaimed—“ Beware! Beware! Beware!"
This warning of the Oracle might doubtless be interpreted in many ways, according to the phase of thought indulged in, or the complexion of retrospective feeling passing through the mind at the time. Though equally superstitious as her compeers, Mary Armstrong, with all her thoughtless frivolity, being of a practical turn of mind, applied, after due reflection, the prophetic warning, not only personally to herself, but to that particular besetting sin which she now remorsefully felt had hitherto characterised her restless and unsettled life.
As Alfred had anticipated, the happy result was that the butler's daughter became a staid and reflective maiden, and in a short time was comfortably married to the douce, swarthy smith of the village, to whom she proved a contented, faithful, and affectionate wife.
Jamie, although he never forgot his first love, in course of time became the industrious and cheerful tenant of the “auld meal mill,” and Alfred gradually attained by his learning and
genius to the very highest place among the celebrated preachers of the day. To their sound judgment and delicacy of feeling be it further recorded to their credit that not until after the death of Mary, did they disclose the story of the white sheet on St Orland's Stone, or reveal the author of that terrible yet well-meant warning which changed in a moment her whole character, and turned into another channel the wayward current of her existence.
Although the miller apparently seemed resigned to his fate, and went about his ordinary business so diligently that everything went well and prosperously with him, still there was an under-current of unrest beneath the calm unruffled surface above, a deep-seated, corroding grief, which, unknown to the world, exercised over his mind a painful, yet pleasing influence, solemnising, if not saddening, every action of his otherwise uneventful life. This was his never-changing, undying affection for his first love. So true is it in real life, in every rank and station, whatever cold, unfeeling men of the world may assert to the contrary, that true heart love never knows decay. Circumstances may intervene to prevent the visible union of two loving, devoted hearts, but they will ever remain united in reality all the same. Other family ties may be formed, and the duties of husband and wife, father and mother, religiously, nay, affectionately discharged, but the old old feeling is still there, not, I verily believe, for the purpose of disquieting and making unhappy -God never intended that—but rather to hallow and temper the bursting exuberance of domestic joys.
There is this difference, however, between love as a passion, and love as a deep-rooted feeling of the heart, that whereas the former may change to hatred, the latter-never! Every good and loving wish surrounds the object of a first affection, these wishes culminating in the fervent hope that wedded love may be ever happy, the children rising up to call their
The miller had a fine ear for music, and was an excellent