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Book of Scottish Story
A Tale of Pentland


Mr JOHN HALIDAY having been in hiding on the hills, after the battle of Pentland, became impatient to hear news concerning the sufferings of his brethren who had been in arms; and in particular, if there were any troops scouring the district in which he had found shelter. Accordingly, he left his hiding-place in the evening, and travelled towards the valley until about midnight, when, coming to the house of Gabriel Johnstone, and perceiving a light, he determined on entering, as he knew him to be a devout man, and one much concerned about the sufferings of the Church of Scotland.

Mr Haliday, however, approached the house with great caution, for he rather wondered why there should be a light there at midnight, while at the same time he neither heard psalms singing nor the accents of prayer. So, casting off his heavy shoes, for fear of making a noise, he stole softly up to the little window from whence the light beamed, and peeped in, where he saw, not Johnstone, but another man, whom he did not know, in the very act of cutting a soldier's throat, while Johnstone's daughter, a comely girl, about twenty years of age, was standing deliberately by, and holding the candle to him.

Haliday was seized with an inexpressible terror; for the floor was all blood, and the man was struggling in the agonies of death, and from his dress he appeared to have been a cavalier of some distinction. So completely was the Covenanter overcome with horror, that he turned and fled from the house with all his might. So much had Haliday been confounded that he even forgot to lift his shoes, but fled without them; and he had not run above half a bowshot before he came upon two men hastening to the house of Gabriel Johnstone. As soon as they perceived him running towards them they fled, and he pursued them; for when he saw them so ready to take alarm, he was sure they were some of the persecuted race, and tried eagerly to overtake them, exerting his utmost speed, and calling on them to stop. All this only made them run faster; and when they came to a feal-dyke they separated, and ran different ways, and he soon thereafter lost sight of them both.

This house, where Johnstone lived, is said to have been in a lonely concealed dell, not far from West Linton, in what direction I do not know, but it was towards that village that Haliday fled, not knowing whether he went, till he came to the houses. Having no acquaintances here whom he durst venture to call up, and the morning having set in frosty, he began to conceive that it was absolutely necessary for him to return to the house of Gabriel Johnstone, and try to regain his shoes, as he little knew when or where it might be in his power to get another pair. Accordingly, he hasted back by a nearer path, and coming to the place before it was day, found his shoes. At the same time he heard a fierce contention within the house, but as there seemed to be a watch he durst not approach it, but again made his escape.

Having brought some victuals along with him, he did not return to his hiding-place that day, which was in a wild height, south of Biggar, but remained in the moss of Craigengaur; and as soon as it drew dark, descended again into the valley. Again he perceived a light in the distance, where he thought no light should have been. But he went towards it, and as he approached he heard the melody of psalm-singing issuing from the place, and floating far on the still breeze of the night. He hurried to the spot, and found the reverend and devout Mr Livingston, in the act of divine worship, in an old void barn on the lands of Slipperfield, with a great number of serious and pious people, who were all much affected both by his prayers and discourse.

After the worship was ended, Hali-day made up to the minister, among many others, to congratulate him on the splendour of his discourse, and implore "a further supply of the same milk of redeeming grace, with which they found their souls nourished, cherished, and exalted." The good man complied with the request, and appointed another meeting at the same place on a future night.

Haliday having been formerly well acquainted with the preacher, convoyed him on his way home, where they condoled with one another on the hardness of their lots; and Haliday told him of the scene he had witnessed at the house of Gabriel Johnstone. The heart of the good minister was wrung with grief, and he deplored the madness and malace of the people who had committed an act that would bring down tenfold vengeance on the heads of the whole persecuted race. At length it was resolved between them that, as soon as it was day, they would go and reconnoitre, and if they found the case of the aggravated nature they suspected, they would themselves be the first to expose it, and give the perpetrators up to justice.

Accordingly, next morning they took another man into the secret, a William Rankin, one of Mr Livingston's elders, and the three went away to Johnstone's house, to investigate the case of the cavalier's murder; but there was a guard of three armed men opposed them, and neither promises nor threatenings, nor all the minister's eloquence, could induce them to give way one inch. The men advised the intruders to take themselves off, lest a worse thing should befall them; and as they continued to motion them away, with the most impatient gestures, the kind divine and his associates thought meet to retire, and leave the matter as it was; and thus was this mysterious affair hushed up in silence and darkness for that time; no tongue having been heard to mention it further than as above recited. The three armed men were all unknown to the others, but Haliday observed that one of them was the very youth whom he saw cutting off the soldier's head with a knife.

The rage and cruelty of the Popish party seemed to gather new virulence every day, influencing all the counsels of the king ; and the persecution of the Nonconformists was proportionably severe. One new act of council was issued after another, all tending to root the Covenanters out of Scotland, but it had only the effect of making their tenets still dearer to them. The longed-for night of the meeting in the old hay-barn at length arrived, and it was attended by a still greater number than on the night preceding. A more motley group can hardly be conceived than appeared in the barn that night, and the lamps being weak and dim rendered the appearance of the assembly still more striking. It was, however, observed that about the middle of the service a number of fellows came in with broad slouch bonnets, and watch-coats or cloaks about them, who placed themselves in equal divisions at the two doors, and remained without uncovering their heads, two of them being busily engaged taking notes. Before Mr Livingston began the last prayer, however, he desired the men to uncover, which they did, and the service went on to the end; but no sooner had the minister pronounced the word Amen, than the group of late comers threw off their cloaks, and drawing out swords and pistols, their commander, one General Drummond, charged the whole congregation in the king's name to surrender.

A scene of the utmost confusion ensued. The lights being extinguished, many of the young men burst through the roof of the old barn in every direction, and though many shots were fired at them in the dark, great numbers escaped ; but Mr Livingston and other eleven were retained prisoners, and conveyed to Edinburgh, where they were examined before the council and cast into prison. Among the prisoners were Mr Haliday and the identical young man whom he had seen in the act of murdering the cavalier, and who turned out to be a Mr John Lindsay, from Edinburgh, who had been at the battle of Pentland, and in hiding afterwards.

Great was the lamentation for the loss of Mr Livingston, who was so highly esteemed by his hearers. The short extracts from his sermons in the barn, that were produced against him on his trial, prove him to have been a man endowed with talents somewhat above the greater part of his contemporaries. His text that night it appears had been taken from Genesis :— "And God saw the wickedness of man that it was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." One of the quoted passages concludes thus:—

"Let us join together in breaking the bands of the oppressors, and casting their cords from us. As for myself, as a member of this poor persecuted Church of Scotland, and an unworthy minister of it, I hereby call upon you all, in the name of God, to set your faces, your hearts, and your hands against all such acts, which are or shall be passed against the covenanted work of reformation in this kingdom; that we here declare ourselves free of the guilt of them, and pray that God may put this in record in heaven."

These words having been sworn to, and Mr Livingston not denying them, a sharp debate arose in the council what punishment to award. The king's advocate urged the utility of sending him forthwith to the gallows; but some friends in the council got his sentence commuted to banishment; and he was accordingly banished the kingdom. Six more, against whom nothing could be proven farther than their having been present at a conventicle, were sentenced to imprisonment for two months; among this number, Haliday was one. The other five were condemned to be executed at the cross of Edinburgh, on the 14th of December following ; and among this last unhappy number was Mr John Lindsay.

Haliday now tried all the means he could devise to gain an interview with Lindsay, to have some explanation of the extraordinary scene he had witnessed in the cottage at midnight, for it had made a fearful impression upon his mind, and he never could get rid of it for a moment; having still in his mind's eye a beautiful country maiden standing with a pleased face, holding a candle, and Lindsay in the meantime at his horrid task. His endeavours, however, were all in vain, for they were in different prisons, and the jailer paid no attention to his requests. But there was a gentleman in the privy council that year, whose name, I think, was Gilmour, to whose candour Haliday conceived that both he and some of his associates owed their lives. To this gentleman, therefore, he applied by letter, requesting a private interview with him, as he had a singular instance of barbarity to communicate, which it would be well to inquire into while the possibility of doing so remained, for the access to it would soon be sealed for ever. The gentleman attended immediately, and Haliday revealed to him the circumstances previously mentioned, stating that the murderer now lay in the Tolbooth jail, under sentence of death.

Gilmour appeared much interested, as well as astonished at the narrative, and taking out a note-book, he looked over some dates, and then observed— "This date of yours tallies exactly with one of my own, relating to an incident of the same sort; but the circumstances narrated are so different, that I must conceive either that you are mistaken, or that you are trumping up this story to screen some other guilty person or persons."

Haliday disclaimed all such motives, and persevered in his attestations. Gilmour then took him along with him to the Tolbooth prison, where the two were admitted to a private interview with the prisoner, and there charged him with the crime of murder in such a place and on such a night; but he denied the whole with disdain. Haliday told him that it was in vain for him to deny it, for he beheld him in the very act of perpetrating the murder with his own eyes, while Gabriel Johnstone's daughter stood deliberately and held the candle to him.

"Hold your tongue, fellow!" said Lindsay, disdainfully, "for you know not what you are saying. What a cowardly dog you must be by your own account! If you saw me murdering a gentleman cavalier, why did you not rush in to his assistance?"

"I could not have saved the gentleman then," said Haliday, "and I thought it not meet to intermeddle in such a scene of blood."

"It was as well for you that you did not," said Lindsay.

"Then you acknowledge being in the cottage of the dell that night?" said Gilmour.

"And if I was, what is that to you?

Or what is it now to me or any person?

I was there on the night specified; but I am ashamed of the part I there acted, and am now well requited for it. Yes, requited as I ought to be, so let it rest; for not one syllable of the transaction shall any one hear from me."

Thus they were obliged to leave the prisoner, and forthwith Gilmour led Haliday up a stair to a lodging in the Parliament Square, where they found a gentleman lying sick in bed, to whom Mr Gilmour said, after inquiring after his health, "Brother Robert, I conceive that we two have found out the young man who saved your life at the cottage among the mountains."

"I would give the half that I possess that this were true," said the sick gentleman. "Who or where is he?"

*If I am right in my conjecture," said the privy councillor, "he is lying in the Tolbooth jail, under sentence of death, and has but a few days to live. But tell me, brother, could you know him, or have you any recollection of his appearance? "

"Alas! I have none," said the other, mournfully, "for I was insensible, through the loss of blood, the whole time I was under his protection; and if I ever heard his name I have lost it, the whole of that period being a total blank in my memory. But he must be a hero in the first rank ; and therefore, oh, my dear brother, save him whatever his crime may be."

"His life is justly forfeited to the laws of his country, brother," said Gilmour, "and he must die with the rest."

"He shall not die with the rest if I should die for him," cried the sick man, vehemently. "I will move heaven and earth before my brave deliverer shall die like a felon."

"Calm yourself, brother, and trust that part to me," said Gilmour. "I think my influence saved the life of this gentleman, as well as the lives of some others, and it was all on account of the feeling of respect I had for the party, one of whom, or, rather, two of whom, acted such a noble and distinguished part toward you. But pray, undeceive this gentleman by narrating the facts to him, in which he cannot fail to be interested." The sick man, whose name, if I remember aright, was Captain Robert Gilmour, of the volunteers, then proceeded as follows:—

"There having been high rewards offered for the apprehension of some south-country gentlemen, whose correspondence with Mr Welch, and some other of the fanatics, had been intercepted, I took advantage of information I obtained regarding the place of their retreat, and set out, certain of apprehending two of them at least.

"Accordingly, I went off one morning about the beginning of November, with only five followers, well armed and mounted. We left Gilmerton long before it was light, and having a trusty guide, rode straight to their hiding-place, where we did not arrive till towards the evening, when we started them. They were seven in number, and were armed with swords and bludgeons; but, being apprized of our approach, they fled from us, and took shelter in a morass, into which it was impossible to follow them on horseback. But perceiving three more men on another hill, I thought there was no time to lose, so giving one of my men our horses to hold, the rest of us advanced into the morass with drawn swords and loaded horse-pistols. I called to them to surrender, but they stood upon their guard, determined on resistancej and just when we were involved to the knees in the mire of the morass, they broke in upon us, pell-mell, and for about two minutes the engagement was very sharp. There was an old man struck me a terrible blow with a bludgeon, and was just about to repeat it, when I brought him down with a shot from my pistol. A young fellow then ran at me with his sword, and as I still stuck in the moss, I could not ward the blow, so that he got a fair stroke at my neck, meaning, without doubt, to cut off my head; and he would have done it had his sword been sharp. As it was, he cut it to the bone, and opened one of the jugular veins. I fell, but my men firing a volley in their faces, at that moment they fled. It seems we did the same, without loss of time; for I must now take my narrative from the report of others, as I remember no more that passed. My men bore me on their arms to our horses, and then mounted and fled, trying all that they could to stanch the bleeding of my wound. But perceiving a party coming down a hill, as with the intent of cutting off their retreat, and losing all hopes of saving my life, they carried me into a cottage in a wild lonely retreat, commended me to the care of the inmates, and after telling them my name, and in what manner I had received my death wound, they thought proper to provide for their own safety, and so escaped.

"The only inmates of that lonely house, at least at that present time, were a lover and his mistress, but intercommuned Whigs; and when my men left me on the floor, the blood, winch they had hitherto restrained in part, burst out afresh and deluged the floor. The young man said it was best to put me out of my pain, but the girl wept and prayed him rather to render me some assistance. 'Oh, Johnny, man, how can you speak that gate?' cried she. 'Suppose he be our mortal enemy, he is aye ane o' God's creatures, an' has a soul to be saved as well as either you or me; and a soldier is obliged to do as he is bidden. Now Johnny, ye ken ye were learned to be a doctor o' physic; wad ye no rather try to stop the bleeding, and save the young officer's life, as either kill him, or let him bleed to death on our floor, when the blame o' the murder might fa' on us!'

"'Now, the blessing of heaven light on your head, my dear Sally!' said the lover, 'for you have spoken the very sentiments of my heart; and, since it is your desire, though we should both rue it, I here vow to you that I will not only endeavour to save his life, but I will defend it against our own party to the last drop of my blood.'

"He then began, and, in spite of my feeble struggles, who knew not either what I was doing or suffering, sewed up the hideous gash in my throat and neck, tying every stitch by itself; and the house not being able to produce a pair of scissors, it seems that he cut off all the odds and ends of the stitching with a large sharp gully knife, and it was likely to have been during the operation that this gentleman chanced to look in at the window. He then bathed the wound for an hour with cloths dipped in cold water, dressed it with plaster of wood-betony, and put me to bed, expressing to his sweetheart the most vivid hopes of my recovery.

"These operations were scarcely finished when the maid's two brothers came home from their hiding-place; and it seems they would have been there much sooner had not this gentleman given them chase in the contrary direction. They, seeing the floor all covered with blood, inquired the cause with wild trepidation of manner. Their sister was the first to inform them of what had happened, on which both the young men gripped to their weapons, and the eldest, Samuel, cried out with the vehemence of a maniac, 'Blessed be the righteous avenger of blood! Hoo! Is it then true that the Lord hath delivered our greatest enemy into our hands!' 'Hold, hold, dearest brother!' cried the maid, spreading out her arms before him. 'Would you kill a helpless young man, lying in a state of insensibility! What! although the Almighty hath put his life in your hand, will He not require the blood of you, shed in such a base and cowardly way?'

"'Hold your peace, foolish girl,' cried he, in the same furious strain. 'I tell you, if he had a thousand lives I would sacrifice them all this moment! Wo be to this old rusty and fizenless sword that did not sever his head from his body when I had a fair chance in the open field ! Nevertheless he shall die; for you do not yet know that he hath, within these few hours, murdered our father, whose blood is yet warm around him on the bleak height.'

"'Oh! merciful heaven! killed our father!' screamed the girl, and flinging herself down on the resting-chair, she fainted away. The two brothers regarded not, but with their bared weapons made towards the closet, intent on my blood, and both vowing I should die if I had a thousand lives. The stranger interfered, and thrust himself into the closet door before them, swearing that, before they committed so cowardly a murder they should first make their way through his body.

"Samuel retreated one step to have full sway for his weapon, and the fury depicted on his countenance proved his determination. But in a moment his gallant opponent closed with him, and holding up his wrist with his left hand, he with the right bestowed on him a blow with such energy that he fell flat on the floor among the soldier's blood. The youngest then ran on their antagonist with his sword and wounded him, but the next moment he was lying beside his brother. As soon as her brothers came fairly to their senses, the young woman and her lover began and expostulated with them, at great length, on the impropriety and un-manliness of the attempt, until they became all of one mind, and the two brothers agreed to join in the defence of the wounded gentleman, from all of their own party, until he was rescued by his friends, which they did. But it was the maid's simple eloquence that finally prevailed with the fierce Covenanters.

"When my brothers came at last, with a number of my men, and took me away, the only thing I remember seeing in the house was the corpse of the old man whom I had shot, and the beautiful girl standing weeping over the body; and certainly my heart smote me in such a manner that I would not experience the same feeling again for the highest of this world's benefits. That comely young maiden, and her brave intrepid lover, it would be the utmost ingratitude in me, or in any of my family, ever to forget; for it is scarcely possible that a man can ever be again in the same circumstances as I was, having been preserved from death in the house of the man whom my hand had just deprived of life."

Just as he ended, the sick nurse peeped in, which she had done several times before, and said, "Will your honour soon be disengaged, d'ye think ? for ye see because there's a lass wanting till speak till ye."

"A lass, nurse? what lass can have any business with me? what is she like?"

"Oo, 'deed, sir, the lass is weel enough for that part o't, but she may be nae belter than she should be for a' that; ye ken, I'se no answer for that, for ye see because "like is an ill mark"; but she has been aften up, speiring after ye, an' gude troth she's fairly in nettle-earnest now, for she winna gang awa till she see your honour/'

The nurse being desired to show her in, a comely girl entered, with a timid step, and seemed ready to faint with trepidation. She had a mantle on, and a hood that covered much of her face.

The privy councillor spoke to her, desiring her to come forward and say her errand, on which she said that "she only wanted a preevat word wi' the captain, if he was that weel as to speak to ane" He looked over the bed, and desired her to say on, for that gentleman was his brother, from whom he kept no secrets. After a hard struggle with her diffidence, but, on the other hand, prompted by the urgency of the case, she at last got out, "I'm unco glad to see you sae weel corned round again, though I daresay ye'll maybe no ken wha I am. But it was me that nursed ye, an' took care o' ye in our house, when your head was amaist cuttit off."

There was not another word required to draw forth the most ardent expressions of kindness from the two brothers, on which the poor girl took courage, and, after several showers of tears, she said, with many bitter sobs, "There's a poor lad wha, in my humble opinion, saved your life; an' wha is just gaun to be hanged the day after the morn. I wad unco fain beg your honour's interest to get his life spared."

"Say not another word, my dear good girl." said the councillor; "for though I hardly know how I can intercede for a rebel who has taken up arms against the government, yet, for your sake and his, my best interest shall be exerted."

"Oh, ye maun just say, sir, that the poor Whigs were driven to desperation, and that this young man was misled by others in the fervour and enthusiasm of youth. What else can ye say? But ye're good—oh, ye're very good ! and on my knees I beg that ye winna lose ony time, for indeed there is nae time to lose!"

The councillor lifted her kindly by both hands, and desired her to stay with his brother's nurse till his return, on which he went away to the president, and in half-an-hour returned with a respite for the convict, John Lindsay, for three days, which he gave to the girl, along with an order for her admittance to the prisoner. She thanked him with the tears in her eyes, but added, "Oh, sir, will he and I then be obliged to part for ever at the end of three days?"

"Keep up your heart, and encourage your lover," said he, "and meet me here again, on Thursday, at this same hour, for, till the council meet, nothing further than this can be obtained."

It may well be conceived how much the poor forlorn prisoner was astonished when his own beloved Sally entered to him with a reprieve in her hand, and how much his whole soul dilated when, on the Thursday following, she presented him with a free pardon. They were afterwards married, when the Gilmours took them under their protection. Lindsay became a highly qualified surgeon, and the descendants of this intrepid youth occupy respectable situations in Edinburgh to the present day.


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