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Book of Scottish Story
Basil Rolland - Chapter 5


“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 love.”

"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 cheeks.

"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 society.”

"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 pardon thee.”

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, sirs!"

"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 secret prayer.

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.

They 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 wood
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—

"Basil, 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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