"By heavens!” exclaimed Sir George,
while, the blood mounted to his forehead, "but this is infamous.
Ring the alarm bell," continued he, "and let all my tenants and
domestics turn out on foot or on horseback, and form as large a
circle round the place as possible; and let them bring out all their
dogs, in case this horrid business is caused by some wild animal or
another which may have broken from its keeper; and Robert,”
continued Sir George, "see that no strangers are allowed to pass the
circle, on any pretence whatever, without my having seen and
These orders were immediately obeyed, and the alarm having spread
far and near, an immense body of people quickly assembled, and
commenced a most determined and active search, gradually narrowing
their circle as they advanced.
Lady Beaumont, ascending to the top of the Hermitage, which
commanded a view of the whole surrounding country, watched their
proceedings with the most intense interest; trusting that the result
would be not only the restoration of David Williams’ children, but
the discovery also of the others which had disappeared, and of her
own little one amongst the number. At times, single horsemen would
dash from the circle at a gallop, and presently return with some man
or woman for Sir George’s examination; and while that lasted, Lady
Beaumont’s heart beat fast and thick ; but the dismissal of the
people, and the re-commencement of the search, painfully convinced
her that no discovery had yet been made ; and sighing deeply, she
again turned her eyes on the searchers. At other times, the furious
barking of the dogs, and the running of the people on foot towards
the spot, seemed to promise some discovery; but the bursting out
from the plantation of some unfortunate calf or sheep, showed that
the people had been merely hastening to protect them from the unruly
animals which had been brought together, and who, having straggled
away from their masters, were under no control.
The day was now fast closing in, and the circle had become greatly
diminished in extent; and when, in a short time afterwards, it had
advanced on all sides from the plantations, and nothing but a small
open space divided the people from each other, Sir George directed
them to halt, and, after thanking them for what they had done, he
requested them to rest themselves on the grass till refreshments
could be brought from the Hermitage, after partaking of which they
had best move homewards, as it seemed in vain to attempt anything
more till next day. He then took leave of them, and hurried home to
the Hermitage, from whence a number of people were soon seen
returning with the promised refreshments.
Having finished what was set before them, and sufficiently rested
themselves, most of them departed, having first declared their
readiness to turn out the moment they were wanted. But when his
friends proposed to David Williams his returning home, he resolutely
refused, declaring his determination to continue his search the
whole night; and the poor man’s distress seemed so great, that a
number of the people agreed to accompany him. Robert, on being
applied to, furnished them, from the Hermitage, with a quantity of
torches and lanterns; and the people themselves, having got others
from the cottages in the neighbourhood, divided into bands, and,
fixing on ]ohn Maxwell’s house for intelligence to be sent to,
parted in different ways on their search.
At first all were extremely active, and no place the least
suspicious was passed by ; but as the night advanced their exertions
evidently flagged, and many of them began to whisper to each other
that it was in vain to expect doing any good in the midst of
darkness ; and, as the idea gained ground, the people gradually
separated from each other, and returned to their homes, promising to
be ready early in the morning to renew the search.
"An’ now, David, " said. John Maxwell, "let’s be gaun on."
"No to my house," cried David;— "not to my ain house. I canna face
Matty, and them no found yet."
"Aweel, then," said John, "suppose ye gang harne wi’ me, and fling
yersel down for a wee; an’ then we’ll be ready to start again at
"An’ what will Matty think in the meantime?" answered David. " But
gang on, gang on, however," he added, " an’ I’se follow ye.”
John Maxwell, glad that he had got him this length, now led the way,
occasionally making a remark to David, which was very briefly
answered, so that John, seeing him in that mood, gave up speaking to
him, till, coming at length to a bad step, and warning David of it,
to which he got no answer, he hastily turned round and found that he
was gone. He immediately went back, calling to David as loud as he
could, but all to no purpose. It then occurred to him that David had
probably changed his mind, and had gone homewards ; and, at any
rate, if he had taken another direction, that it was in vain for him
to attempt following him, the light he carried being now nearly
burnt out. He therefore made the best of his way to his own house.
In the meantime, poor David Williams, who could neither endure the
thought of going to his own house nor to his brother-in-law’s, and
had purposely given him the slip, continued to wander up and down
without well knowing where he was, or where he was going to, when he
suddenly found himself, on coming out of the wood, close to the
cottage inhabited by a widow named Elie Anderson.
"I wad gie the world for a drink o’ water," said he to himself; "
but the pair creature will hae lain down lang syne, an’ I’m sweer to
disturb her;" and as he said this, he listened at the door, and
tried to see in at the window, but he could neither see nor hear
anything, and was turning to go away, when he thought he saw
something like the reflection of a light from a hole in the wall, on
a tree which was opposite. It was too high for him to get at it
without something to stand upon ; but after searching about, he got
part of an old hen-coop, and placing it to the side of the house, he
mounted quietly on it. He now applied his eye to the hole where the
light came through, and the first sight which met his horrified gaze
was the body of his eldest daughter, lying on a table quite dead,—a
large incision down her breast, and another across it !
David Williams could not tell how he forced his way into the house ;
but he remembered bolts and bars crashing before him, —his seizing
Elie Anderson, and dashing her from him with all his might ; and
that he was standing gazing on his murdered child when two young
ones put out their hands from beneath the bed-clothes.
"There’s faither,” said the one.
"Oh, faither, faither,” said the other, "but I’m glad ye’re come,
for Nanny’s been, crying sair, sair, and she’s a’ bluiding.”
David pressed them to his heart in a perfect agony, then catching
them up in his arms, he rushed like a maniac from the place, and
soon afterwards burst into john Maxwell’s cottage-:,— his face pale,
his eye wild, and gasping for breath.
"God be praised," cried John Maxwell, "the bairns are found! But
Poor David tried to speak, but could not articulate a word.
"Maybe ye couldna carry them a’ ?” said John; "but tell me whaur
Nanny is, and I’se set out for her momently.”
"Ye needna, John, ye needna,” said David; "it’s ower late, it’s ower
"How sae? how sae?” cried John; "surely naething mischancy has
happened to the 1assie?"
"John,” said David, "grasping his hand, she’s murdered—my bairn”s
"Gude preserve us a’,” cried John; "an’ wha’s dune it?”
"Elie Anderson," answered David; the poor innocent lies yonder a’
cut to bits;” and the unhappy man broke into a passion of tears.
John Maxwell darted off to Saunders Wilson’s. "Rise, Saunders !”
cried he, thundering at the door; "haste ye and rise!”
"What’s the matter now?” said Saunders.
"Elie Anderson’s murdered David’s Nanny; sae- haste ye, rise, and
yoke your cart that we may tak her to the towbuith.”
Up jumped Saunders Wilson, and up jumped his wife and his weans, and
in a few minutes the story was spread like wildfire. Many a man had
lain down so weary with the long search they had made, that nothing
they thought would have tempted them to rise again; but now they and
their families sprung from their beds, and hurried, many of them
only half-dressed, to John Maxwell’s, scarcely believing that the
story could be true. Amongst the first came Geordie Turnbull, who
proposed that a number of them should set off immediately, without
waiting till Saunders Wilson was ready, as Elie Anderson might
abscond in the meantime; and away he went, followed by about a dozen
of the most active. They soon reached her habitation, where they
found the door open and a light burning.
"Ay, ay," said Geordie, "she’s aff nae doubt, but we’ll get her yet.
Na, faith," cried he, entering, "she’s here still ; but, gudesake,
what a sight’s this !” continued he, gazing on the slaughtered
child. The others now entered, and seemed iilled with horror at what
"Haste ye," cried Geordie, "and fling a sheet or something ower her,
that we mayna lose our wits a’thegither. And now, ye wretch,"
turning to Elie Anderson, " your life shall answer for this infernal
deed. Here,” continued he, " bring ropes and tie her, and whenever
Saunders comes up, we’ll off wi’ her to the towbuith."
Ropes were soon got, and she was tied roughly enough, and then
thrown carelessly into the cart; but notwithstanding the pain
occasioned by her thigh-bone being broken by the force with which
David Williams dashed her to the ground, she answered not one word
to all their threats and reproaches, till the cart coming on some
very uneven ground, occasioned her such exquisite pain, that, losing
all command over herself, she broke out into such a torrent of abuse
against those who surrounded her, that Geordie Turnbull would have
killed her on the spot, had they not prevented him by main force.
Shortly afterwards they arrived at the prison ; and having delivered
her to the jailor, with many strict charges to keep her safe, they
immediately returned to assist in the search for the bodies of the
other children, who, they had no doubt, would be found in or about
When they arrived there, they found an immense crowd assembled, for
the story had spread everywhere; and all who had lost children,
accompanied by their friends and neighbours and acquaintances, had
repaired to the spot, and had already commenced digging and
searching all round. After working in this way for a long while,
without any discovery being made, it was at length proposed to give
up the search and retum home, when Robin Galt, who was a mason, and
who had been repeatedly pacing the ground from the kitchen to the
pig-sty, and from the pig-sty to the kitchen, said, "Frien’s, I’ve
been considering, and I canna help thinking that there mann be a
space no discovered atween the sty and the kitchen, an’ I’m unco
fond to hae that ascertained. ”
" We’ll sune settle that,” says Geordie Turnbull. "Whereabouts
should it be ? ”
"Just there, I think," says Robin.
Geordie immediately drove a stone or two out, so that he could get
his hand in.
"Does onybody see my hand frae the kitchen?” asked he.
"No a bit o’t,” was the answer.
"Nor frae the sty”
"Nor frae that either.”
"Then there mann be a space, sure enough," cried Geordie, drawing
out one stone after another, till he had made a large hole in the
wall. "An’ now," said he, "gie me a light;" and he shoved in a
lantern, and looked into the place. "The Lord preserve us a’ ! ”
cried he, starting back.
"What is’t—what is’t?” cried the people, pressing forward on all
"Look an’ see !—-look an’ see !” he answered; "they’re a’ there--a’
the murdered weans are there, lying in a raw!”
The wall was torn down in a moment; and, as he had said, the bodies
of the poor innocents were found laid side by side together. Those
who entered first gazed on the horrid scene without speaking, and
then proceeded to carry out the bodies, and to lay them on the green
before the house. It was then that the grief of the unhappy parents
broke forth ; and their cries and larnentations, as they recognised
their murdered little ones, roused the passions of the crowd to
"Hanging’s ower gude for her," cried one.
"Let’s rive her to coupens," exclaimed another.
A universal shout was the answer; and immediately the greater part
of them set off for the prison, their numbers increasing as they
ran, and all burning with fury against the unhappy author of so much
The wretched woman was at this moment sitting with an old crony who
had been admitted to see her, and to whom she was confessing what
had influenced her in acting as she had done.
"Ye ken,” said she, "I haena jist been mysel since a rascal that had
a grudge at me put aboot a story of my having made awa wi’ John
Anderson, wi’ the help o’ arsenic. I was ta’en up and examined aboot
it, and afterwards tried for it, and though I was acquitted, the
neebours aye looked on me wi’ an evil eye, and avoided me, This
drave me to drinking and other bad courses, and it ended in my
leaving that part of the kintra, and coming here. But the thing
rankled in my mind, many a time hae I sat thinking on it, till I
scarcely kent where I was, or what I was doing. Weel, ae day, as I
was sitting at the roadside, near the Hermitage, and very low about
it, I heard a voice say, ‘Are you thinking on John Anderson, Elie?
Ay, woman,’ said Charlotte Beaumont, for it was her, ‘what a shame
in you to poison your own gudeman !’ and she pointed her finger, and
hissed at me. When I heard that,” continued Elie, "the whole blood
in my body seemed to flee up to my face, an’ my very een were like
to start frae my head; an’ I believe I wad hae killed her on the
spot, hadna ane o` Sir George’s servants come up at the time; sae I
sat mysel doun again, an’ after a lang while, I reasoned mysel, as I
thought, into the notion that, I shouldna mind what a bairn said;
but I hadna forgotten for a’ that.
"Weel, ae day that I met wi" her near the wood, I tell’t her that it
wasna right in her to speak you gate, an’ didna mean to say ony mair,
hadna the lassie gane on ten times waur nor she had done before, and
sae angered me, that I gied her a wee bit shake, and then she
threatened me wi’ what her faither wad do, and misca’ed me sae sair,
that I struck her, and my passion being ance up, I gaed on striking
her till I killed her outright. I didna ken for a while that she was
dead; but when I found that it was really sae, I had sense enough
left to row her in my apron, an’ to tak her hame wi’ me ; an' when I
had barred the door, I laid ber body on a chair, and sat down on my
knees beside it, an’ grat an’ wruug my hands a’ night lang.
"Then I began to think what would be done to me if it was found out
; an’ thought o’ pittin’ her into a cunning place, which the man who
had the house before rne, and who was a great poacher, had contrived
to hide his game in ; and when that was done, I was a thought
easier, though I couldna forgie mysel for what I had done, till it
cam into my head that it had been the means o’ saving her frae sin,
and frae haein’ muckle to answer for; an’ this thought made me unco
happy. At last I began to think that it would be right to save mair
o’ them, and that it would atone for a’ my former sins ; an’ this
took sic a hold o’ me, that I was aye on the watch to get some ane
or ither o’ them by themselves, to dedicate them to their Maker, by
marking their bodies wi’ the holy cross :—but oh ! " she groaned,
"if I hae been wrang in a’ this!”
The sound of the people rushing towards the prison was now
distinctly heard; and both at once seemed to apprehend their object.
"Is there no way of escape, Elie," asked her friend, wringing her
Elie pointed to her broken thigh, and shook her head. "Besides,”
said she, "I know my hour is come.”
The mob had now reached the prison, and immediately burst open the
doors. Ascending to the room where Elie was confined, they seized
her by the hair, and dragged her furiously downstairs. They then
hurried her to the river, and, with the bitterest curses, plunged
her into the stream ; but their intention was not so soon
accomplished as they had expected; and one of the party having
exclaimed that a witch would not drown, it was suggested, and
unanimously agreed to, to burn her. A fire was instantly lighted by
the water-side, and when they thought it was sufficiently kindled,
they threw her into the midst of it. For some time her wet cloth es
protected her, but when the fire began to scorch her, she made a
strong exertion, and rolled herself off. She was immediately siezed
and thrown on again; but having again succeeded in rolling herself
off, the mob became furious, and called for more wood for the fire;
and by stirring it on all hands, thev raised it into a tremendous
blaze. Some of the most active now hastened to lay hold of the poor
wretch, and to toss her into it; but in their hurry one of them
having trod on her broken limb, caused her such excessive pain, that
when Geordie Turnbull stooped to assist in lifting her head, she
suddenly caught him by the thumb with her teeth, and held him so
fast, that he found it impossible to extricate it. She was therefore
laid down again, and in many ways tried to force open her mouth, but
without other effect than increasing Geordie’s agony; till at length
one of them seizing a pointed stick from the fire, and thrusting it
into an aperture occasioned by the loss of some of her teeth, the
pressure of its sharp point against the roof of her mouth, and the
smoke setting her coughing, forced her to relax her hold, when the
man’s thumb was got out of her grasp terribly lacerated. Immediately
thereafter she was tossed in the midst of the flames, and forcibly
held there by means of long prongs; and the fire soon reaching the
vital parts, the poor wretch’s screams and imprecations became so
horrifying, that one of the bystanders, unable to bear it any
longer, threw a large stone at her head, which, hitting her on the
temples, deprived her of sense and motion.
Their vengeance satisfied, the people immediately dispersed, having
first pledged themselves to the strictest secrecy. Most of them
returned home, but a few went back to Elie Anderson’s, whose house,
and everything belonging to her, had been set on fire by the furious
multitude. They then retired, leaving a few rnen to watch the
remains of the children, till cofiins could be procured for them.
"Never in a’ my days," said John Maxwell, when speaking of it
afterwards, "did I weary for daylight as I did that night. When the
smoke smothered the fire, and it was quite dark, we didna mind sae
muckle ; but when a rafter or a bit o’ the roof fell in, and a
bleeze raise, then the fire-light shining on the ghastly faces of
the puir wee innocents a’ laid in a row,—it was mair than we could
weel stand; and it was mony a day or I was my ainsel again. ”