“Farewell ye dungeons, dark and strong,
The wretch’s destinie;
Macpherson’s time will not be long
On yonder gallows-tree.” …………. Old Song.
Basil Rolland was conducted into one of
the cells of the common prison, and, notwithstanding his excitement,
fell into a profound slumber; but it was of that troubled kind which
nature obtains by force when the mind is disposed for watchfulness.
He imagined himself by the sea, on a beautiful summer evening,
walking with his love by the murmuring shore. On a sudden they were
separated; and he, in a small boat, was on the bosom of the ocean.
The tempest was raging in all its grandeur, and the unwilling bark
was whirling and reeling on the mountainous waves ; it struck upon a
rock, and was dashed into a thousand pieces. He felt the waters
rushing in his ears; he saw the sea-monsters waiting for their prey;
and his bubbling screams filled his own heart with horror. He
sank--but the waters receded and receded, till he stood firmly on a
dry rock. A vast plain was around him--a black and barren
wilderness, without one plant, one shrub, or one blade of grass. It
lay stretched before him, as far as his eye could reach, the same
dismal, monotonous scene of desolation. On a sudden, the mists that
covered its termination were dispelled, and piles of rocky
mountains, whose tops touched the clouds, began to close around him.
A vast amphitheatre of smooth and perpendicular stone surrounded
him, and chained him to the desert. The rocky walls began to
contract themselves, and to move nearer to the spot where he stood.
Their summits were covered with multitudes of spectators, whose
fiendish shout was echoed from rock to rock, until it fell upon his
aching ear. Wild, unearthly faces were before him on every side; and
fingers pointed at him with a dernoniacal giggle. The rocks still
moved on. The narrow circle on which he stood was darkened by their
height—he heard the clashing of their collision—he felt his body
crushed and bruised by the gigantic pressure. He raised his voice to
shriek his last farewell; but the scene was changed. The grave had
given up her dead; and the sea, the dead that were in her. He was
among the companions of his childhood; and not one was wanting. The
jest and the game went on as in the days of his youth. His departed
mother awaited his return; but her kiss of welcome blenched his
cheek with cold. Again he was involved in a scene of strife. The
death-bearing missiles were whizzing around him; but he had not the
power to lift an arm in his own defence. A supernatural energy
chained him to the spot, and paralysed all his efforts. A gigantic
trooper levelled his carbine at him ; the aim was taken
deliberately; he heard the snap of the lock ; he saw the flash of
fire ; he gave a loud and piercing shriek, and awoke in agony,
gasping for breath.
The sun was shining through the grated window when he awoke, weak
and exhausted by his unrefreshing sleep. He found the sober form of
the Covenanting preacher seated beside his pallet, with a small
Bible in his hand.
"I thought it my duty,” said the preacher, "to visit thee, and mark
how thou bearest thyself under this dispensation, and to offer thee
that consolation, in the name of my Master, which smoothes the
passage to the tomb."
"You have my thanks,” said the unfortunate youth. "Have you waited
long in the apartment?"
"I came at daybreak; but often was I tempted to rouse thee from thy
slumbers, for thy dreams seemed terrifying.
"I have indeed passed a fearful night. Fancy has chased fancy in my
scorching brain till it appeared reality. But I can spend only
another such night.”
"I grieve to tell thee, young man, that thy days are numbered: all
the intercession of thy father and his friends hath been fruitless.
I also talked to James of Montrose concerning thee; for I hold that
he hath overstretched the limit of his power, and that there is no
cause of death in thee: but he treated me as one that mocketh, when
I unfolded the revealed will of God, that the earth will not cover
innocent blood; wherefore turn, I beseech thee, thine eyes to the
Lord,—for vain is the help of man. Look to the glory on the other
side of the grave. Fear not them which can kill the body, but after
that can have no power; but fear Him that can cast both soul and
body into hell.”
"I fear not, father ; I fear not death. I could close my eyes for
ever on the green land of God without a sigh. Had death met me in
the field, the bugle would have sung my requiem, and I would have
laid me on the turf, happy in being permitted to die like a man; but
to die like a thief--like a dog--is fearful and appalling. Besides,
there are ties which bind to earth souls stronger than mine. Alas!
alas! what is the common approach of Death to the stealthy and
ignorninious step with which he visits me!”
"Compose thyself” said the preacher, "and let these earthly wishes
have no place in thy thoughts. Time, to thee, is nearly done, and
eternity is at hand. Approach thy Creator, as the Father of Mercy,
in His Son. Murmur not at His dispensations; for He chasteneth in
"A hard lesson I ” said Basil. "Tell me, didst though ever love a
wife, a son, or a daughter?”
"I lost a wife and a son,” said the preacher with emotion.
"In what manner? "said Basil.
"I visited the west country, on business of the Congregation, and in
my absence the hand of Death was busy in my house. When I returned,
my wife and son were both beneath the sod. But God’s will be done!
They are now in heaven," said he, while the tears stole down his
"And,” said Basil, "did you never feel a desire again to see them?
Did you not wish that the decree of fate had been altered, and that
your family had been again restored to you? ”
"Often—often," said he, wringing his hands. "God forgive me! Often
have I murmured at His dispensation. At some seasons I would have
bartered my life--nay, my soul’s weal--for one hour of their
"And yet ye bid me do that which ye confess to be above your
efforts! You lost but your wife and child; I
lose my own life—my fame—my Mary.”
"But your father ”—
"Peace I have no father—no friend —no love. To-morrow’s sun will see
me as I was before my being ; all of me gone, except my name coupled
with hated murderers and traitors. Away, away, old man ! it drives
me to madness. But, if the spirits of the dead can burst the
sepulchre, I will be near my murderer. In the blackness of night I
will be near him, and whisper in his thoughts dark, dark as hell."
"Have patience "—
"Patience! Heaven and earth! Remove these bonds," said he, striking
his rnanacles together till the vaulted roof echoed the clanking.
"Give me my sword,--place Montrose before me, --and I’ll be patient
I very patient !”— and he burst into a fit of hysterical laughter
which made the preacher shudder.
"Prepare to meet thy God, young man," exclaimed the Covenanter. He
succeeded in gaining his attention, and resumed: "Thy thoughts are
full of carnal revenge, forgetting Him who hath said, ‘vengeance is
mine’ I tell thee that thy thoughts are evil, and not good. Turn
thyself to thy Saviour, and, instead of denouncing woe on thy
fellows, prepare thyself for thy long journey. ”
"Long, indeed! ” said Basil, entering into a new train of ideas.
"Ere to-morrow’s sun go down, my soul, how far wilt thou have
travelled? Thou wilt out-strip the lightning’s speed. And then, the
account ! I am wrong, good man; but my brain is giddy. Leave me
now,— but, prithee, return."
"I shall see thee again. Put thy trust in the Lord. Compose thy
troubled mind, and God be with thee! Thy
father is soliciting thy pardon; and he bade me tell thee he would
visit thee to-day. I’ll go to Montrose myself, -- for he shall
The day following, a dark gibbet frowned in the centre of the
market-place, erected in the bore of the millstone which lies at
this day in the middle of Castle Street. At an early hour the whole
square was filled with spectators to witness the tragedy. A powerful
band of the Covenanters guarded the scaffold. A deep feeling of
sympathy pervaded the multitude, for the wretched prisoner was known
to almost every individual. Every one was talking to his neighbour
on the distressing event, with an interest which showed the
intensity of their sympathy with the sufferer.
"Willawins! willawins!” said an aged woman; "I suckled him at this
auld breast, and dandled him in these frail arms. On the vera last
winter, when I was ill wi’ an income, he was amaist the only ane
that came to speir for me; an’ weel I wat, he didna come toom-handed.
I just hirpled out, because I thought I wad like to see his bonny
face and his glossy curls ance mair; but I canna thole that black
woodie! It glamours my auld een. Lord be wi’ him ! Eh, sirs ! eh,
"Vera right, cummer,” said Tenor the wright ; "it’s a waesome
business. Troth, ilka nail that I drave into that woodie, I could
have wished to have been a nail o’ my ain coffin?
"And what for stand ye a’ idle here?” said a withered beldame, whom
Basil had found means to save from being tried for witchcraft,
which, as the reader is aware that “Jeddart justice "was
administered on these occasions, was tantamount to condemnation.
"Why stand ye idle here? I’ve seen the time when a’ the Whigs in the
land dauredna do this. Tak the sword! tak the sword! The day ’ill
come when the corbies will eat Montrose’s fause heart, and "—
“Whisht, sirs! whisht!" exclaimed several voices; and there was a
rush among the crowd, which made the whole mass vibrate like the
waves of the sea. It was the appearance of our hero, surrounded by a
guard of the insurgents. His arms were bound. The cart followed
behind; but he was spared the indignity of riding in it. It
contained the executioner, a miserable-looking man, tottering in the
extremity of old age. It also bore the prisoner’s coffin. His
demeanour was calm and composed, his step firm and regular; but the
flush of a slight hectic was on his cheek. He was attended by the
Covenanting preacher, whom, on his coming out, he asked, "If ‘she’
knew of this?"He whispered in his ear. "Then the bitterness of death
is past ;” and the procession moved on. These were the last words he
was heard to utter. He never raised his eyes from the ground till he
reached the scaffold, when, with a determined and convulsive energy,
he bent his eyes upon the scene before him. It was but for a moment;
and they sank again to the earth, while his lips were moving in
We must now retrograde a little in our story, to mark the progress
of two horsemen, who, about noon, were advancing with the utmost
rapidity to Aberdeen. These were Isaac Rolland and Hackit, Provost
Leslie’s servant. To explain their appearance here, it will be
necessary to notice some events of the preceding day. Isaac Rolland
and his friends had applied earnestly to Montrose for the repeal of
his hasty sentence; and their representations seemed to have great
weight with him. He told them to return early next morning to
receive his answer. At the first peep of day Isaac was at his
lodgings, and found, to his surprise and sorrow, that news had
arrived of the pacification of Berwick late the evening before, and
that Montrose had instantly taken horse for the south. There was no
time to be lost, and, accompanied by Hackit, he set out on horseback
to Arbroath, where Montrose was to rest for a little, and reached it
as the other was preparing to depart.
The pardon was readily granted, as peace was now established between
all the king’s subjects. Montrose, more-over, acknowledged that he
had proceeded too hastily.
They accordingly set out on their journey, and spared neither whip
nor spur, lest they should arrive too late.
changed horses at Dunottar, and rode on to Aberdeen with all the
speed they could make. When about six miles from the town, Isaac
Rolland’s horse broke down under him, when Hackit, who was better
mounted, seized the papers, and, bidding him follow as fast as
possible, pushed on. The noble animal that bore him went with the
speed of lightning, but far too slowly for the impatient rider.
Having shot along the bridge of Dee at full gallop, he arrived at
Castle Street, by the Shiprow with his horse panting and foaming,
while the clotted blood hung from the armed heels of his rider.
"A pardon! a pardon !"shouted Hackit, as he recklessly galloped over
and through the thick-set multitude, and lancing to the quick his
horse’s sides with his deep rowels at every exclamation. "A pardon!
a pardon!” cried he, advancing still faster, for the rope was
adjusted, and all was ready for the fatal consummation. "Lord hae
mercy on him !"His horse with one bound brought him to the foot of
the scaffold, and then dropped down dead, while a loud execration
burst from the spectators, which drowned his cries. The prisoner was
thrown off just in Hackit’s sight as he advanced, the Covenanters
having dreaded that this was the beginning of some commotion. He
threw the sealed pardon at the head of the commandant, and, mounting
the scaffold, cut the cord in a twinkling, letting the body fall
into the arms of some of the crowd who had followed him; and,
quicker than thought, conveyed him into an adjacent house, where
every means was tried to restore animation. There was not one who
could refrain from tears when they compared the crushed and maimed
being before them with the jovial young man he was a few days
before. His eyes, bleared and bloodshot, were protruded from their
sockets; a red circle surrounded his neck, and the blood, coagulated
under his eyes, showed the effects of strangulation. After some time
he heaved a sigh, and attempted to raise his right hand to his
breast; his intention was anticipated, and a picture that hung round
his neck was put into his hand. At this moment Mary Leslie entered
the apartment. A tremulous shuddering ran through his frame; he
attempted to raise himself, but life ebbed by the effort, and, with
a deep groan, he fell back into the arms of death. Mary Leslie,
however, did not witness his departure, for she had sunk senseless
on the floor. When she recovered, all was calm, save her eye which
rolled with the quickness of insanity.
"Hush! ” said she; "he sleeps, and you will waken him. I’ll cover
him with my own plaid, for it is cold—cold.” She set herself to
cover him, and sang the verse of the ballad—
My love has gone to the good green
To hunt the dark-brown daes;
His beild will be the ferny den,
Or the shade of the heathery braes.
But I’ll build my love a bonny bower—
awake ! the old man waits you at the Playfield—arise!. He hears me
not—ha—I remember !” and she sank again on the floor, and was
carried home by her friends.
A fair company of young men bore Basil to his grave; and by his side
a weeping band of maidens carried Mary Leslie. They were lovely in
their lives, and in death they were not separated. One grave
contains them both, which was long hallowed by the remembrance of
this tragical transaction. The sacred spot has now become common
ground, and I have searched in vain for it, that I might shed one
tear to the memory of the unfortunate lovers.
The goodwill of his fellow-citizens called Patrick Leslie several
times to be their chief magistrate; but life to him had lost its
savour, and he lingered for several years in this world as one whose
hopes and enjoyments were elsewhere. lt was said that Isaac Rolland,
at stated intervals, visited the grave of his son, and watered it
with the tear of unavailing sorrow. He afterwards involved himself
with the factions that tore the kingdom asunder, and, it was
supposed, perished at the battle between the Covenanters and Oliver
Cromwell, at Dunbar, in 1650. — Aberdeen Censor.
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