“Jessie’s Tryst” By Anonymous, Part I

“Jessie’s Tryst” first appeared in the pages of “The People’s Friend” in 1869.

It’s author wasn’t named, as was quite a common practice back then. Which is shame, because it’s a great story!

This is part one, with part two coming next week.

We hope you enjoy!

The sky is overcast, and the setting descends in a thick curtain of purple.

The roll of the coming thunderstorm is heard in the direction of Glenalmond, and the sky, as darkness thickens, is ever and anon momentarily lit up by the lightning.

The lower animals seek shelter in their natural instinct — the songs of the merry warblers of the grove are hushed — only now and then half-suppressed chirp. Man, also, is making hasty preparation for a terrible conflict of the elements, and cattle and sheep are housed, or placed where danger is likely to be less liable.

The shade and gloom of night now thicken, and the distant noises become more distinct. The air is close and stifling. The streams roar as if exulting at the prospect of the raging torrents they are soon likely to become, and then the sound is hushed, as if they had suddenly stopped or been swallowed up in the gathering darkness.

A girl, over whose head some seventeen or eighteen summer suns have shed their gladdening rays, is seen to steal forth furtively from a thatched cottage in the hamlet of Bailmore.

She is wrapped in her plaid, and is evidently anxious to avoid being seen on whatever errand she is bound. Yet with hasty steps she glides onward, casting many sidelong glances toward the house she has just quitted.

She is almost clear of the outhouses, and out of sight of the dwelling-house, when a stalwart youth of about the same age as herself meets her. He hastening home for shelter from the heavy rain which is now beginning to fall, and with a start of astonishment does he meet his twin sister setting out on such a night.

Her beautiful cheeks turn to the brightest crimson when her eyes meet the enquiring steadfast gaze of her brother. She involuntarily stops, and her eyes seek the ground.

“My dear sister, what can be wrong that you are going out in such night as this,” said the comely youth. “What has happened?”

“They are all well at home,” said she, falteringly.

“And whither do you intend to go?” urged the youth, with scrutinising glance.

“Oh, Donald, I am almost for shame unable to tell even you of my folly, and never had more need of your advice, and perhaps of your aid. But I cannot tell you.”

“And what friend can yon find, Jessie, nearer both in love and blood than your twin brother? Whatever is the matter tell me, and if you need aid you shan’t want mine.

“Come, tell me what it is, and whither you are going.”

“I will tell you frankly all, my own brother,” said the girl, drawing close to him. “I will tell you all. You know that my father and mother have given their consent that I shall be married to John of the Croft, our cousin, at the New Year.

“Well, last night I dreamt that I met him at the ash tree near the river after dark. I thought his manner was very much altered, and he did not speak as he used to do to me.

“I turned to ask if he was well, when he fell to the ground. and a savage-looking man stood before him.

“His eyes were dark like balls of fire. He was taller than John, and in his hand he held a bloody knife. I shrieked with fear, and he raised his hand to stab me.

“I fell on my knees to beg for my life, when a strange two-headed creature leaped over my head, wrenched the knife out of big hand, and stabbed the terrible man.

“I woke in a sweat, with terror, but thought it was only an idle delusion, But when John was going out after you at dinner time he whispered to me at the door, ‘be sure, meet me at the big ash at nine o’clock tonight — be sure.’

“I was so surprised at this, after my dream, that I could not answer a word till he was some distance away.

“I am now going to meet him, and my heart is nearly failing me —”

“This is strange, very strange,” said the youth, speaking to himself rather than to his sister. “Is the tree your usual meeting-place?”

“No; we never met there before.”

“Never before? And it is odd John should be ashamed to meet his betrothed in the light, and in presence of her friends.

“But you will go on, Jessie, and fear nothing, for you cannot doubt John’s honesty ; but his manner to-day, as well as your dream, is surprising to me.

“But, go on, and if there is any danger there is a true friend near. Lie down, Trust— lie down — be quiet,” said he to his dog, as the animal barked loudly at something in the direction of the ash tree.

“John must be there already, Jessie. So go on, and fear nothing.”

The girl glided into the darkness, and her brother, by a more circuitous course, took the same direction — holding his dog by the collar in order that the animal, by his barking, might not betray the presence of a third party to the conference.

Donald took his station behind a bush about twenty yards from the tree where the lovers were together.

John was at the tree but a short time ere Jessie arrived, and on her approach he tenderly welcomed his betrothed, but was unusually reserved and sad.

After a long pause, the damsel addressed him.

“What ails you, John, for you are very dull—are you quite well?”

“Yes, dearest, in health well enough.”

“Why have we met in this lonely place?”

“Yes,” said the young man, with an effort, “I will tell you. Rory, the foxhunter, has been telling in the inn up the Glen that you were to be in spite of your father and mother. I heard it myself, and — and — I have brought you here to learn the truth from your own lips.”

“Dear cousin, believe me there is not the least particle of truth in what you heard. I thought you had known me better than to believe that I could prove false to you after the promise you gave and received.”

“Oh, Jessie, I did not give credit to the word of it when I heard it, but last night I did dream that I was standing by your side as I am now.

“I thought you told me you were only jesting when you promised to marry me at the New Year, and you pushed me from you.

“I fell down a precipice, and on looking up I saw Rory, your brother Donald. and yourself laughing at me. You may think this very foolish, but I could not get it out of my mind all day.”

“Your dream is strange indeed,” said Jessie, shuddering and drawing closer to her intended. “But why did you choose this tree as the place of meeting?”

“I don’t know,” said John, “it just occurred to me when I told you in passing.”

Here the maiden related the dream as she had a little before done to her brother. Both were amazed.

“I fear,” said John, “there is some meaning in our dreams, and that the rascal Rory intends some mischief against us. But I will watch him.”

“Do not fear for me, John, for never will I wed Rory the foxhunter. I am yours, or none other’s.”

Little did the lovers fancy that the man they both hated was within hearing.

To be continued . . .

Look out for part two of “Jessie’s Tryst” in next week’s Fiction newsletter.

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Iain McDonald

Iain is Digital Content Editor at the "Friend", making him responsible for managing flow of interesting and entertaining content on the magazine's website and social media channels.