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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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traversed by Maclaren and his captors crosses this obtusely pyra-
midal height (for so it is shewn to be, on a great scale, by the
descent of these rivers) at a spot called Errickstane Brae.

After the height of the country has been passed, it proceeds for
some way along the brink of a profound green hollow, in which the


Annan takes its rise, and which is usually termed the Devil's, but
sometimes also the Marquis of Annandale's, Beef-tub, from some
resemblance it bears to that domestic utensil, and because the
reivers of the great Border house of Johnstone used of old to conceal
their stolen, cattle in it. As implied by the appellation, the sides of
this hollow are nearly perpendicular all round, the bottom being so
deep, that, in clear weather, a traveller looking down into it from
the road sees bullocks diminished to the size of sheep, and sheep to
that of hares. On the present occasion, however, it was filled to the
brim by the dense fog which pervaded the atmosphere, so that the
road winding along the top appeared like the shore of a deep bay of
the sea, to step from which would have been to plunge into an abyss,,
and be lost for ever.

The soldiers, though the country was entirely new to them, passed
along the high and perilous road with feelings little impressed by it.
The dreariness and monotony of their day's march had rendered
their minds dull and inattentive, and instead of keeping in a close
circle round their prisoner, they straggled along in a line, in which
he was sometimes near the front, and sometimes near the rear.
Very different was the mental condition of Maclaren, who, from his
having frequently passed this way with cattle, as many Highland
gentlemen of superior rank to himself were accustomed to do, was
acquainted with every foot of the way, and had long meditated a
particular mode of escape, which he was now to put into execution.
How great was the astonishment of the soldiery when Maclaren,
who at one moment was pacing quietly along in the dreary march,,
was the next seen to start, as if instinct with new life, from their line,,
towards the edge of the precipice, over which he plunged head fore-
most, and was instantly out of sight ! To rush after him was but
the work of a moment ; yet so quick had been his movements, that,
he was already absorbed in the sea of mist which filled the Beef-tub.
With his head firmly clenched between his knees, and holding his
feet in his hands, he had formed his body as nearly as possible into
a round form, and allowed himself freely to roll heels over head
down the steep side of the hollow, the surface of which he knew
presented at this place no obstructions capable of injuring him. In
their ignorance of the ground, no one durst follow him. The brave
lieutenant could only, as soon as he recovered breath, exclaim with
an oath: 'Stop, sir I arrest you in the ; king's name! 'while the
soldiers fired their muskets at random into the misty gulf, or ran a
little way round its edges in the hope of finding a less perilous
descent to the bottom. It was all in vain ; and, after once more
gathering, they could only console themselves with the undoubting
assurance that the rascal must have broken his neck in the descent,
and so relieved the king of the duty of punishing his rebellion.

At the moment when the lieutenant uttered his characteristic
exclamation, Neil Maclaren could have stopped his career neither


for king nor kaiser. He arrived, however, at the bottom of the
Beef-tub without the slightest injury ; and the moment that he did
so, he commenced his ascent of the opposite side with the speed of
one who hears behind him the blood-hound's bay. When he reached
the top, being well acquainted with the ground, he set off at full
speed in the direction of his father-in-law's house, following, not the
road by which he had come, but the hillsides, where he was not
likely to be seen by any one. He took this route, in the hope that
in some of the many corner-holes about the Crook he might easily
lie concealed until the hue-and-cry was blown over. Nor was he
wrong in his anticipations.

After the departure of the soldiers with their prisoner, Geordie
Black was surprised by the arrival of visitors that were near and
dear to him namely, his daughter Ailie, with her infant child. The
poor young creature knew of her husband's capture, and was on her
way to Carlisle to beg his life, or to die with him. Her parents
persuaded, or rather compelled her to stay a night with them, in
order to take that rest of which she stood in so much need ; but it
may be imagined that they could offer her no other consolation.
Consolation, however, was not far off, though they then saw it not.
After night had set in, Geordie, with the view of excluding as much
as possible all spectators of his daughter's grief, went out in person
to bring a supply of fuel for the parlour fire from the peat-stalk.
While in the act of lifting these combustibles, a voice whispered his
name, and finding, by the terrified ' Gudesake ! what 's that ! ' that
it was his father-in-law, Maclaren revealed himself, and told the
story of his marvellous escape. It would be hard to say whether
joy or alarm was predominant in the old man's mind on hearing it,
for he feared the return of the soldiers. He had, nevertheless, no
.thought for an instant of abandoning Neil. Going into the house
for a lantern, he led his son-in-law to an unoccupied and well-con-
cealed corner of his premises, and then, having prepared both of
them for the joyful and most unexpected interview, he conducted the
wife to her husband's arms. They were strongly attached to each
other, and their feelings on meeting are not to be described.

Lieutenant Howison and two of his men reached the Crook during
the night, the rest having gone, according to command, in various
directions in search of the fugitive. In anticipation of such a visit,
Maclaren had been carefully and securely secreted ; and the servants
of the household being put upon their guard, were too faithful not
to avoid all mention of Maclaren's wife's name. The lieutenant,
indeed, never entertained the slightest suspicion of the landlord, but
on the contrary condescended, as if sure of the sympathies of his
auditor, to repeat to Geordie many emphatic denunciations of the
scoundrel who kept 'tumbling and rolling' down the Devil's Beef-
tub, though called upon to halt ' in the king's name.' The unwelcome
military visitants departed from the Crook on the following day.


Neil Maclaren, the hero of this remarkable escape, contrived, with
the aid of his friends, to keep himself concealed, sometimes in one
way, and sometimes in another, until the act of indemnity was passed
by the government. He then returned with his wife to the Braes
of Balquhidder, in which district he was a duniwassal, or small
proprietor. Like Rob Roy, he had not disdained to seek the
improvement of his fortunes by sending cattle to England, and these
expeditions he sometimes guided in person. While on one of these
journeys, he had seen and loved, wooed and won, Ailie Black. After
claiming and obtaining the immunity alluded to, he recovered
(chiefly by the help of Geordie Black's well-saved pose) the greater
part of his former heritage, and lived in peace for the rest of his days
in the bosom of his family.


IN the lower part of Peeblesshire, on the south bank of the Tweed,
stands Traquair House, the seat of the Earls of Traquair, of one of
whom tradition has preserved some particulars which throw a light
on the manners of a bygone age.

Sir John Stewart, created Earl of Traquair by Charles I. in 1628,
was also raised by that monarch to the dignity of Lord High-
treasurer of Scotland, in which office he acted a conspicuous part
in the history of that stirring period. Circumstances having on
one occasion led the earl to visit Jedburgh, he there learned that
a person of whom he had some knowledge, Willie Armstrong of
Gilnockie, was in confinement for cattle-stealing an offence far
from uncommon in these times. Interested in the fate of the
Borderer, the earl exerted his influence, and succeeded in releasing
Willie from bondage.

Some time afterwards, a lawsuit of importance to Lord Traquair
was to be decided in the Court of Session, and there was every
reason to believe that the judgment would turn upon the voice of
the presiding judge, who has a casting vote in case of an equal
division among his brethren. The opinion of the president was
unfavourable to Lord Traquair, and the point was, therefore, to keep
him out of the way when the question should be tried. In this
dilemma the earl had recourse to Willie Armstrong, who at once
offered his services to kidnap the president.

On due inquiry, the unscrupulous Borderer found that it was the
judge's practice frequently to take the air on horseback on the sands
of Leith without an attendant. In one of these excursions, Willie,
who had long watched his opportunity, ventured to accost the
president, and engage him in conversation. His address and
language were so amusing, that he decoyed the president into an
unfrequented and furzy common, called the Figgate Whins, where,


riding suddenly up to him, he pulled him from his horse, muffled
him in a large cloak which he had provided, and rode off with the
luckless judge trussed up behind him. Will crossed the country with
great expedition, by paths known only to persons of his description,
and deposited his weary and terrified burden in an old castle in
Annandale, called the Tower of Graham. The judge's horse being
found, it was concluded he had thrown his rider into the sea : his
friends went into mourning, and a successor was appointed to his

Meanwhile the poor president spent a heavy time in the vault of
the castle. He was imprisoned and solitary; receiving his food
through an aperture in the wall, and never hearing the sound of a
human voice, save when a shepherd called his dog by the name of
Batty, and when a female domestic called upon Madge the cat.
These, he concluded, were invocations of spirits ; for he held him-
self to be in the dungeon of a sorcerer. At length, after three
months had elapsed, the lawsuit was decided in favour of Lord
Traquair, and Will was directed to set his prisoner at liberty.
Accordingly, he entered the vault at the dead of night, seized the
president, muffled him once more into the cloak, without speaking
3. single word ; and using the same mode of transportation, conveyed
him to Leith sands, and set down the astonished judge on the very
spot where he had taken him up.

The joy of his friends, and the less agreeable surprise of his suc-
cessor, may be easily conceived, when the president appeared in
court to reclaim his office and honours. All embraced his own
persuasion that he had been spirited away by witchcraft ; nor could
he himself be convinced of the contrary; until, many years after-
wards, happening to travel in Annandale, his ears were saluted once
more with the sounds of Madge and Batty, the only notes which had
solaced his long confinement. This led to a discovery of the whole
story ; but in these disorderly times it was only laughed at as a fair
ruse. Wild and strange as this tradition may seem, there is little
doubt of its foundation in fact. The judge upon whose person this
extraordinary stratagem was practised was Sir Alexander Gibson,
Lord Durie, who died in July 1646.

Lord Traquair does not appear to have been benefited by the
unlawful exploit of the Border freebooter. From a high position
in the state, he made a fall as great as was ever known in the
vicissitudes of court favour : from being a wealthy and influential
nobleman, he actually sunk to the condition of a beggar in the
street. The cause of this extraordinary decline of fortune is to be
found partly in the political troubles and changes in the reign of
Charles I. and partly in private misfortune. For some reason, now
unknown, the earl resigned his whole estates to his son, and like
most others who, during their lives, have abandoned their entire
means to their children, he was left by his ungrateful descendant


to pine and die in misery, an object of commiseration to strangers.
In a history of the Family of Fraser, by the Rev. James Fraser,
minister of Kirkhill, on the Beauly Firth, the writer mentions the
following circumstances of this unfortunate earl, under the date

' A remarkable death this year was that of John Stewart, the old
Earl of Traquair, time, place, and manner considered. This man
was King James VI. 's cousin and courtier. Charles I. sent him as
High Commissioner down to Scotland, and he sat as viceroy in
the parliament, June 1639. He was early at court, the haven of
happiness for all aspiring spirits ; and this broke him at last he
became the tennis-ball of fortune. What power and sway, place
and preferment, he had then, I need not mention ; only this, keeping
then with the revered bishops, and tampering under board with the
Covenanters, he acknowledged to be his bane ; but whether then by
his own misconduct, or by paction and resignation of his interest to
his son, or the immediate hand of God upon him, I search not, but
he proved a true emblem of the vanity of the world a very meteor.
I saw him, in 1661 [wrong date], begging in the streets of Edinburgh.
He was in an antique garb, and wore a broad old hat, short cloak,
and pannier breeches ; and I contributed, in my quarters in the
Canongate, towards his relief. We gave him a noble, he standing
with his hat off. The Master of Lovat, Culbockie, Glenmoriston,
and myself were there, and he received the piece of money from my
hand as humbly and thankfully as the poorest supplicant. It is
said that at a time he had not [wherewithal] to pay cobbling his
boots, and died in a poor cobbler's house.'


ON the bank of a small mountain rivulet which dashes down
towards the Tweed, about the centre of the county, stands a neat
though humble cot, the residence not many years ago of Allan
Scott, a youth whose early fate excited considerable interest in the

The father of Allan was an exemplification of a truth most honour-
able to human nature. He evinced in his own person how much
respect and esteem can be attained by sobriety and good-conduct,
even in the midst of poverty and distress. Everybody loved the old
man, who was a hard-working tradesman, and when sorrow fell
upon him, there was no one in our little town who did not sym-
pathise with him. Allan was an only son, and was about thirteen
years of age when his mother died, and the first blow was given to
his father's happiness. The old man's health became broken, and
it was only at intervals that he was able to work, and to teach his
son his own trade. Hence, willing and diligent as Allan was, his



want of skill rendered him barely able to maintain his father and
himself during those attacks of illness which fell more severely upon
the old man the oftener they were repeated. It was an affecting
sight at these times to see the son, in the short moments of evening
relaxation, supporting and tending his infirm parent, as they crept
slowly along the river-bank the walk which the old man loved
most, having been that which he had often trod with his departed
partner by his side, and that dutiful son, then a playful child, gam-
boling around them. Allan, too, loved the Tweed, in whose clear
pools he had learned, in his happy school-days, to be a bold and
adroit swimmer. But little leisure was now left him for such amuse-
ments. His nights, after returning from the customary walk, were
spent in the same incessant watching over his father's comforts.
Their solitary little dwelling was seldom intruded upon, except by
the kind inquiries, and sometimes kinder offers, of a friendly neigh-
bour. For the former the inmates were always grateful, and the
latter were always civilly declined. In truth, Allan struggled to do
all and everything that was necessary. The old man had through
life preserved a manly spirit of independence in his bosom, and the
son strove, with perhaps an overnice filial tenderness, that his father
should in his weakness and age feel dependence on none but him.
But for some consciousness of this, many might have offered a little
assistance ; for many pitied, and all respected the humble pair. This
very respect, however, rendered it a delicate matter to obtrude
charity on those who, if they did feel pinching poverty, bore it
meekly and uncomplainingly.

And in reality Allan and his father were in distress, which was
put beyond a doubt by the step taken by them to relieve it. We
say them, because, though the son was the true and only actor in
the matter, yet the consent and blessing of the old man went with
him in his honest endeavour. After a severe and protracted attack
of his father's complaint, during which Allan's attendance had been
so much required as to trench deeply on his earnings, the humble
pair found that they would be totally unable to meet the approach-
ing rent-day. This was a source of grievous anxiety to them ; for
though they had often met the same demand with difficulty, they
never before had been so totally unprovided. The old man had
recovered so far as to resume his work, and the first idea of a remedy
for their need suggested itself to him. How reluctantly this idea
was admitted into his mind, may be conceived when we inform the
reader that the plan was, to permit his son to offer himself as a
militia substitute, the bounty for which would relieve them alto-
gether. The country was at this period at war, and the demand for
substitutes was so considerable, that there would be no difficulty in
putting the plan in execution. Yet, even with the prospect of losing
his son only for a short time, strong must have been the honourable
determination to owe no man anything, which could bring over the


feelings of a father to the adoption of a scheme like this. Well
did the old man know the dutiful character of him on whom he
depended. Allan had long meditated upon the plan in question,
and had only refrained from stating it, from the disinclination to
leave his father for the time which it would render imperative. And
now that he saw his father, with health for the time re-established,
turn to the scheme with some degree of cheerfulness and hope, he
consented to embrace it at once. Being now a firmly knit, though
slender lad of nineteen, his offer of himself speedily found an
acceptor in a wealthy merchant who had had the bad-luck to be
selected to serve his majesty by the indiscriminating ballot, which
has no regard of persons. The bounty which Allan received was
not only sufficient to discharge the rent of their humble dwelling,
but was also large enough to support his father during his expected

On the morning of the day preceding that fixed for his departure
with his fellow-substitutes for Dumfries, the head-quarters of the
corps to which he was to be attached, Allan went to make some
necessary preparations with his comrades. After these were accom-
plished having all, like himself, given up their occupations for the
time they took a short walk together to chat over their coming
campaign. They were all light-hearted lads ; and many of their
parents, on hearing of Allan Scott's engagement, had recommended
them to follow his conduct as a model. On this occasion they
turned their stroll, at his request, to the side of the river, that they
might take leave, as he said, of its clear stream for a time. The
day was warm and fine, being in the beginning of summer, and on
arriving in their walk at the pool where they had all dipped when
school-boys, the fatal proposition to bathe was made by one of them.
Allan, who was fond of the exercise, and a good swimmer, was not
the last to consent. Not one of them, as it unhappily fell out, was
so fearless and practised as he, and the most of them contented
themselves with bathing in the shallower water. Allan plunged at
once into the deepest quarter, and two of his companions, who did
not join in the amusement, sat upon the rocky bank, gazing upon his
free movements with pleasure. Suddenly they heard him give an
agonised cry, and saw him attempt to make for the bank. The
attention of all was now drawn to him, and they beheld him, after
two or three severe struggles, sink below the surface, and in a
moment the waters closed above him !

His companions looked on for an instant in stupefaction and
dismay. But the boldest of them for the cry made them aware
that something was wrong speedily came to the spot, and attempted
to dive into the depths of the pool. None of them was capable of
it, and the most forward got into serious danger himself. At last
one of those who had not bathed cried : ' We are losing time ; I will
run for assistance.' This he accordingly did on the instant ; but he



had to go to the town before he got what he sought. When he
returned, several men were with him, one of whom, an experienced
diver, brought up the body of poor Allan Scott. A surgeon whom
they had warned was not long in following them, and by him several
unsuccessful endeavours were made on the spot to restore the breath
which had departed. On seeing the fruitlessness of this, he ordered
them to convey the body as fast as possible to the town, where
warmth and other remedies might be applied ; and the men, for this
purpose, took up their melancholy burden.

The church and its session-house stands in the centre of the town,
and to the latter building they conveyed the body of Allan, as all
decided that it would be exceedingly improper to take it to the old
man's house. In the session-house, warmth, friction, and every
means was used that the surgeon could suggest or apply for the
recovery of the young man ; but all was in vain ; and at the end of
more than an hour, actively employed, all hope was given up, with
pain and reluctance, by those around. And now arose a thought of
deeper sorrow and anxiety, if deeper there could be, than that excited
by the fate of a youth so beloved and respected. Who could tell the
tale to him who, all unconscious of his bereavement, sat in his lonely
dwelling, waiting for that beloved and dutiful son's return? The
task, melancholy as it was, behoved to be discharged ; and the
surgeon, seeing that the undertaking of this sad duty was expected
from him, prepared to execute it. Unwilling to leave the body of the
unfortunate youth exposed to the gaze of the crowd now attracted
to the place, before departing, he desired all present to leave the
apartment. The people at once complied with the request, one only
of them remaining, at the wish of the surgeon, beside the corpse.
The medical man then slowly and sadly turned towards the old man's
abode, where we cannot follow him ; for we should consider it as
little less than sacrilegious to attempt to describe the effect of the
awful tidings which he bore.

Is not this, reader, a melancholy event, and one likely to be long
remembered by one who knew the history, and saw the bier-borne
body of that unhappy youth ? Yet the tale is not done the catas-
trophe is not unfolded the harrowing circumstance which inter-
wove Allan Scott's name and fate with the deepest tendrils of memory
is yet, strange as it may appear, to be narrated ; and were it not a
truth to which many yet can bear witness, we should think it too sad
a one for these pages. But it is a truth, and from it a lesson of deep
warning may be drawn.

When the surgeon, after being absent for a considerable time,
returned to the session-house to make arrangements for bearing the
unfortunate Allan's body to the home of his father, he found the
person whom he had left behind standing outside the door of the
chamber where the body lay. The truth was, the man had begun
to feel disagreeably lonely and ' eerie ' in the room, and, unconscious


of any bad result being possible from the step, had risen and taker*
his station outside, locking the door behind him. But a circumstance
had occurred while he was in this position which imprinted alarm
and anxiety so visibly on his features, that the surgeon, on coming,
up to him, observed his discomposure at once ; and before turning
the key in the lock, the medical gentleman inquired if anything had

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 15 of 58)