Elsie Purves, who had been brought up in the service of the Countess of Dunbar, and now filled the responsible position of principal tirewoman to that great lady, was, at the Hallowe’en season our story opens, on a visit to her old friends, the parents of Adam Home, at their comfortable farmhouse on the Wedderburn estate. She and Adam had long plighted their troth, and the marriage was only delayed until Lady Dunbar could find leisure from her warlike duties to look out a suitable holding on the extensive Dunbar or Moray estates for her young favourite and the man of her choice.
When Hepburn and Betsy entered the kitchen of Wedderburn house loud and eager were the inquiries asked of him as to the object of his journey from Dunbar to Wedderburn, and great was the consternation of Adam and Elsie when his errand was disclosed. The girl knew that she had no alternative but to obey the summons of her powerful and imperious mistress. Feudal obedience, personal attachment, and the sure expectation of favours to come combined to draw her to Dunbar, while love for her comely sweetheart no less irresistibly inclined her to remain where she was so happy under the safe bield of Wedderburn Castle. yet she knew she must go, and at once, for in those days the wishes of the great could not be lightly regarded. So it was with a sigh that she heard the mandate which was to tear her away from the man she loved, and change her free, full of life on the bonnie green banks of the Whitadder for a gloomy and secluded existence in the grim, rock-bound stronghold which guarded the Lothians, and looked out on the troubled waters of the stormy Northern Sea.
“Ay, lad,” she replied, in answer to Hepburn’s inquiry if she could come with him that night, “I maun gang when the lady ca’s, and by the time you and your horse are rested and suppered I’ll be ready to tak’ the road. Come awa’, Adam, we’ll gae doun and see yer faither and mither, and get my things pit thegither ready to start.” “Weel, lass,” laughingly answered her sweetheart, “a wilfu’ woman maun hae her way, but I can tell ye that gin ye are set upon this journey I’ll tak’ ye mysel’, and, unless Sir David forbids me, I’ll offer my sword tae Black Agnes until the siege is raised and the Castle safe. Na, na, lassie, I canna lippen ye tae Robbie Hepburn. What would Betsy there say if the twa o’ ye went awa’ for sic a lang ride i’ the dark?”
Loud and long laughed the merry company at this pleasant daffing, but when Sir David Home understood that his clansman and retainer wished for a time to take service with the Countess of Dunbar he cheerfully gave his consent. “Ye hae my hearty good wishes and my full approval, Adam,” assented the Laird. “I only wish I could send some mair help to my good friend the Countess, but a bang young fellow like you will be a host in himsel’, and I’m sure Black Agnes will be glad o’ yer services. What say ye, Hepburn?” “Nae doubt o’ that, Sir David,” answered the soldier. “My mistress will be pleased tae see Adam; ay, and anither score like him, gin they wish tae come. Where hard knocks are going the men o’ the Merse are ever welcome. But ye ken, Sir, that giff gaff makes guid friends, and if Adam’s gaun tae tak’ care o’ Elsie I maun hae a lassie tae mysel’. We need women as weel as men in the Castle tae mak’ the meat, and mind the wounded, and keep up the spirits o’ the gallant lads; sae if Elsie tak’s Adam wi’ her ye canna refuse me a lass tae mak’ ma parritch. Will ye come, Betsy?” chucking the girl under the chin as he spoke. “Black Agnes will gie ye a hearty welcome, and when we get clear o’ the Southerns you and me will jist gang awa’ doun some fine mornin’ tae the Kirk o’ St Anne’s, and get buckled for life.”
“That’s a fair offer, Bess,” struck in Sir David. “If I were you I wad’ tak’ the lad at his word. Robbie Hepburn’s a decent chiel, and a brave soldier. Ye’ll nae get sic another chance in a hurry, I can tell ye. What say ye, Tam and Jean?” looking towards Betsy’s parents as he spoke. “Will ye let her gang, think ye?” The worthy couple thus referred to did not at once give an answer to this somewhat abrupt demand for their daughter’s hand. They hummed and honed, and coughed, and smile, and looked conscious. At last the auld wife took heart of grace, and replied for her husband and herself – “Deed, Sir David, I’ve nae faut tae fin’ wi’ the lad, and I ken he lees oor Betsy weel, but ae thing I can tell ye, ma lassie dinna gang awa’ wi’ Hepburn this nicht unless they gang as man and wife. I’ve nae broo o’ thae pit aff marriages; gin he wants the lassie, let him tak’ her, here and now. It’ll be safer, and mair satisfactory for a’ pairties.”
“Nothing I could desire better,” assented the ardent lover. “Here is Father Andrew, let’s go to the chapel, get the ceremony over, and then hie for Dunbar.”
“Yes,” interrupted Adam Home, “you’re quite right to get married, and Elsie and I canna’, it seems to me, dae better than follow such a good example. Sae, Sir David, wi’ yer permission we’ll hae a double marriage in Wedderburn Chapel this nicht.”
When the brides and bridegrooms are equally willing marriages are easily arranged; and as neither Elsie nor Betsy made much difficulty about the matter, while Sir David cordially agreed, the whole Hallowe’en party repaired to the Castle chapel, and there at the solemn midnight hour the good priest who looked after the spiritual affairs of the Wedderburn tenants united these two pairs of youthful lovers in the indissoluble bonds of holy matrimony, and with his blessing, and the good wishes of their friends, they set out on their long, lonesome, dangerous night ride, leading through the ranks of the besiegers, to the Castle of Dunbar.