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Book of Scottish Story
The Lost Little Ones


Chapter Two

"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 examined them."

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 gray daylight.”

"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 where’s Nanny?”

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 late!"

"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 murdered, John!”

"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 they saw.

"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 her house.

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 sides.

"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 absolute frenzy.

"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 misery.

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 hands.

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. ”


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