A PASSAGE FROM THE HISTORY
OF THE REBELLION.
Many of the Maxwells of
Galloway were out in the forty five, and, after the disaster which put an
end to the Stuart cause for ever, few felt more severely the royal
displeasure than the catholics of the stewartry. The last of the Maxwells
of Orchardtown, in that district, having fought with desperate courage in
the ranks of the Pretender, was pursued by the king’s troops with the
sanguinary spirit of the blood-hounds. His activity and the knowledge of
the country afforded him, however, advantages which set for a long time at
defiance all the efforts of his pursuers; but the hardships he
encountered, and the privations he suffered, purchased, at a high price,
the short respite his ingenuity gained from a melancholy fate.
Maxwell observed that his
companions in misfortune generally fled as far as possible from their
respective counties, conceiving that the investigations of the soldiers
would be directed, in the first instance, to the places of their abode.
This, it is well known, was a great error; for the seizures of the
fugitives that took place were much more frequently the consequence of the
unfriendly character of the persons who concealed them, and who had little
interest in their security, than any suspicions of the soldiers directed
to localities. Taking advantage of that error, Maxwell went direct to the
parish of Urr, where he knew there were many catholics who would lay down
their lives for his salvation.
Clothed in the garb of a
common labourer, the proprietor of the large estates of Orchardtown
hastened his progress to the place of his hope. It was late at night when
he arrived at the little, but beautiful village of Dalbeatie situated on
the banks of the angry Urr. He was in a state of great exhaustion as well
as of solicitude—fear he knew not—for he had heard, at several periods,
behind him, the tread of horses, which his heated imagination at once
converted into those of troopers. Taking no time to select the dwelling of
a catholic, he ran up to the nearest door that presented itself; and,
lifting the latch, stood before an old woman, who sat at a clear crackling
fire, smoking a short cutty pipe, as black as the cat that sat on her
knee, and reading her Bible. There was nothing for it but to dash at once
into the question whether she was catholic or protestant.
"A very odd question that,
in these strange times," answered the old woman, "and ane I’m no inclined
to answer, till I am informed what use ye intend to mak o’t."
"I am a fugitive from the
king’s troops," said Maxwell, "and claim the protection of a christian,
whether of the one persuasion or the other."
"And that ye shall hae,"
answered the woman with briskness, "but only upon ae condition."
"What is that?" said
"It is just that ye dinna
ask me to deny you," answered the old woman; "ye hae my house at your
command, everything in it that may assist ye in concealing frae Geordie’s
hounds, except my conscience."
At this moment, Maxwell
thought he heard the sound of the troopers, and taking advantage of the
qualified consent of the old woman, stept forward, with a view to explore
the recesses of the humble apartment. His first resolution was to get
beneath the bed; but that was objected to by the old woman as unwise, for,
as she remarked, that was the very first place his pursuers would likely
search. The quickness of the woman vindicated the superiority of her sex
in devising expedients.
"Tak that ladder and mount
up to the skylight," she cried; "open it, and try if it is big enough
toyou’re your body out. The roof o’ the house is the safest place in
it. Ye can lie there and crack to me through the window, and maybe I
may hand ye up something to cheer your sorrowfu’ heart."
The idea was excellent.
Maxwell immediately mounted got out at the skylight, and, laying his body
along the thatched roof, looked down upon his conditional protectress with
"Now," said the old woman,
"I can safely say ye’re no in my house. Dinna ye see how meikle ye
women hae improved, sin’ the days o’ our common mither, wha, if she had
but a tenth pairt o’ the wit o’ her dochters, might easily hae saved us
frae the burden o’ our original sin. Dinna ye see, that I can, by denying
your being in my house, save ane o’ my ain faith and my conscience, at the
Maxwell saw the importance
of the judicial construction which the woman was inclined to put upon her
answer, and it cheered his drooping spirits;--but he suspected the
possibility of the soldiers putting such a question as would place the old
woman’s conscience, whose sensibility might out strip the ingenuity of her
mind as well as himself, in jeopardy; and he therefore endeavoured to
prevail upon her to give up all her scruples, and deny him out and out.
Putting his hands to the sides of his mouth to prevent the sound from
escaping outwardly, and direct it down into the house, he said—
"I suppose you are well
acquainted with your Bible; and. no doubt it is from that precious volume
that you draw your reasons for not denying me to the soldiers. But, if I
recollect rightly, there is no express commandment against telling a white
lie to save a friend; for the ninth only forbids the bearing of false
witness against our neighbour, and I am only asking you to say a
word against truth for a friend."
"And a guid friend, in
troth," replied the woman, "ye are to come and. sit on my roof and try to
persuade me that a lee is no forbidden in the Bible. Did ye never read
that Ananias, and Sapphira his wife, were both, by the vengeance of the
Almighty, struck dead for telling a lee, far whiter in its complexion than
what ye sae cunningly would ha me to tell."
Caught by the biblical lore
of the woman, Maxwell changed his tactics, and endeavoured to maintain,
that, although lies were forbidden, there were some instances where they
"You are right, my good
lady," rejoined Maxwell, "but you must admit that, in some cases, even on
Bible authority, the end justifies the means, and untruths have, for
certain purposes, been permitted. It is, moreover, very remarkable that
you women have been selected, in preference to us men as the agents in
those instances where lies are permitted in Scripture."
"I dinna like flattery,"
interrupted the woman, with a quaint coquettish tone.
"For you are aware,"
continued Maxwell, "that Rahab received and concealed the two spies sent
from Shittim, and denied that she had seen them; and Rachel sat upon the
images, and said to her father, who searched for the same, that she could
not rise up, and therefore denied that she had taken them."
"Ay, and there is anither
instance ye micht hae mentioned," said the woman; "but I’m no sic a fule
as tell ye what it is; for I think it is mair against my sex than the
cases that hae enabled ye to pour down sae meikle abuse on us, wha are the
very fountains o’ mankind. But a’ thae lees werena justified, freend, nae
mair than were those tauld by Peter and Abraham."
This opposition on the part
of the woman, disconcerted Maxwell greatly; for at that very moment the
whole village was disturbed by the noise of the soldiers, who had arrived
and were searching every house in it. He, therefore, clung to the
concession already made by the woman, reminded her that he was not in
her house, and suggested the improbability of any question being put
as to his being on it.
In a little time the door
opened, and Maxwell could see, without being discovered, the men who were
thirsting for his blood, at least for the reward which the spilling of it
would yield them, enter the house, and search every corner of it for
himself. They repeatedly asked the woman if she had any person secreted in
it. To this she uniformly answered "No."
"Art thou sure, old lady,"
said the Lieutenant of the company, "that thou hast no man secreted in thy
"Sure am I o’ that,"
replied she; "and for the truth o’ what I say, I can appeal to a’ abune,"
giving a wink to Maxwell, who trembled at her bold indiscretion.
"But hast thou not this day
seen Maxwell of Orchardtown, the king’s outlaw, or heard of him, or
suspect where he is, or has been?"
"I hae seen nae man wham I
kenned to be Maxwell o’ Orchardtown," replied the close-sailing casuist.
After searching the house,
the men departed, but the noise in the village, still continued. Maxwell
felicitated himself on his escape; and the good woman proposed to give her
guest some porridge, provided she could devise any means of getting it up
to him, being unable to mount the ladder. This difficulty was overcome by
throwing a string up to Maxwell, who held the one end of it, while the old
woman tied the other to the dish. A good warm supper of our national meal
assuaged the pangs of a two day’s hunger, and the dauntless feaster
enjoyed, in the very midst of an uproar produced by the baying of the
bloodhounds tracking his course, that humble dish, with all the relish of
a professor of gourmandize picking the bones of an ortolan.
While the noise in the
village continued, Maxwell could not move. The fatigues of the day had
produced a lassitude which soon lulled him to sleep. As he was gently
falling into the arms of the drowsy god, he heard the old woman offering
up, with the greatest devotion, a prayer for his safety. Never did
religion appear to him so fascinating. The Castle of Orchardtown, with all
its grandeur, never presented to him a scene so full of picturesque
beauty, as this poor old woman in her little mud hut, addressing the
Almighty in her own simple terms, speaking the language of the heart, and
breathing the uncontaminated aspirations of a contrite spirit. Far less
did ever anything occur there to fill his heart with so engrossing an
interest. A stranger, unseen by her before, unknown to her, and liable to
be suspected by her, formed the subject of her devotional thanks and her
humble petitions—and that person was in the lion’s mouth—an
outlaw—proscribed by his king, and in the power of a poor old
woman--exposed to every privation, lying on a house top, and denied a
vision of the faintest ray of the rainbow of hope. In the devotional
contemplation of this subject, and with such feelings of satisfaction, the
persecuted owner of thousands lay down and slept on a roof of thatch.
A little before dawn,
Maxwell awoke. The sounds of the horsemen had ceased, and as yet the
inhabitants were asleep. He cried down to the old woman that it was time
he was off to the woods, where he knew a cave which would afford him
secure shelter during the day. His protectress requested him to remain
until he got something to eat; and, with all the expedition in her power,
proceeded to get something prepared for him. While engaged in this
occupation, the door opened, and a neighbour entered, requesting a light
wherewith to kindle her fire. Ignorant of the ingress of this visitor,
Maxwell asked, through the sky-light, if his breakfast was yet ready; and
the woman, who was in the act of lighting her peat, alarmed and terrified
at the supernatural voice coming from above, flew out of the house, with
the burning torch in her hand, exclaiming that the devil was in the house
of Betty Gordon, who was busy making his porridge. It was yet dark, and
the woman’s high tones—for she was truly alarmed—with the unusual
appearance of a lighted torch flaming in the street, roused the troopers,
who had taken up their quarters in the village for the night.
The sounds of the
collecting soldiers commenced—the supposed devil was sagaciously thought
to be the object of their search; and they hurried to the house. Maxwell,
however, had seen his danger, and coming down from his hiding place by the
back part of the house, crossed the Urr, and flew with the greatest speed
down to the Solway. The soldiers repeated their search. Everything was
examined, and one of them taking up the dish out of which Maxwell had
taken his supper, and to which the string was still attached, held it up
to his companions, as an evidence that the object of their search had been
on the roof of the house. As he held up the dish, something fell out of
it, which, on being examined, was found to be a diamond ring, which the
gratitude of the unhappy outlaw had induced him to give, in this delicate
manner, to his protectress. The valuable trinket was immediately laid hold
of by the officer of the company, who, placing it on his finger, held it
up, and asked how an outlaw’s ring looked on a loyal hand. Betty
vindicated her right to the ring, with all her powers of oratory, but to
no purpose. The only reply she got was, that, if she did not remain quiet,
she would be removed to Dumfries, and punished for harbouring a traitor.
The critical accuracy of this charge appearing to Betty to be exceedingly
doubtful, she defied the officer to his proof, arguing, with considerable
show of reason, and in her own particular style, that as, even by his own
allegation, the fugitive had lain on the top of her house, she could not
be said to have harboured him, any more than she did the rooks, who often
selected her roof to sit on, and caw their omens over the village. She
would not go the length of denying that he had been there; for she found
her conscience had now taken up the case, and casuistry had little effect
on that sturdy champion of the cause of truth.
Being able to procure no
trace from Betty, of the direction the fugitive had taken, the soldiers
betook themselves to a chance pursuit, which turned out to be well
scented; for Maxwell soon heard his relentless pursuers at his heels. It
was now grey dawn, and he had got to the water’s edge. The sounds
approached nearer and nearer to him, and his choice seemed to lie between
fire and water. Impelled by the keen spur of the fellest necessity, he
sprung into the water; and just as he had waded as far as to cover all his
body excepting his head which, in the dawn, could not be distinguished, he
saw the company of troopers dash at full speed along the edge of the bank.
So near were they, that he heard them mention his name, and could easily
learn, from their conversation, that they had secured the ring which he
had meant as a reward to the poor old woman who had treated him so kindly.
Maxwell now took his course
by Castle Gower, running at the top of his now diminished speed, and
producing, in the intensity of his struggles for life, such a degree of
heat throughout his body, that his wet clothes reeked. He presented thus
an extraordinary appearance, and attracted attention. Though he avoided
houses and sought the woods, he did not escape several people, who struck
with the figure of a man smoking like a kiln—out of breath and gasping,
yet still toiling on—running and stopping, and running again, and his
blood-shot eyes staring about him, as he expected every moment that death
was at his heels—concluded at once that he was a Jacobite flying for life.
The circumstance went from mouth to mouth, till it reached the soldiers,
who, making sure of the intelligence, turned and tracked their victim
through every evolution which his knowledge of the country enabled him to
The race was unequal, so
long as Maxwell was obliged to keep even ground: but he soon got to the
thickets, and the troopers were obliged to dismount, and follow him
through the trees. He got now among the old woods of Munshes, striking up
to the high ground as his best refuge. He was now, however, in the view of
his pursuers, who, coming from off their horses, were comparatively fresh
and able for the pursuit. With drawn swords in their hands, which
glittered with a fearful brightness amidst the dark green leaves of the
old oaks, they dashed on, and poor Maxwell saw, with dismay, that his
career was finished.
Providence, how strange are
thy ways! At the very moment when Maxwell thought himself about to resign
his life he fell headlong into a cleft of an old quarry, which had been
opened, on the lands of Barchan, by the old Maxwell of Munshes, who
married the heiress of Tinwald. There he lay senseless and motionless, as
much beyond the fear of his foes as if he had got a free pardon; but his
relief was the insensibility of a swoon; and when he recovered his senses,
he heard the whoop of the soldiers dying away in the distance. They had
passed over him, continuing their course, in the belief that he had
doubled a corner of the rock, and proceeded in the direction of the river.
In this situation, Maxwell
considered what course he should now take. He conceived himself unsafe
where he lay, for he knew that the moment the soldiers cleared the woods
and saw no trace of him beyond, they would return and search for the place
where he lay, and, in all probability find him. The thought of dying in a
cave, without room for the play of his arms, like a badger baited by
terriers, suited not the taste of Maxwell, who was determined to sell his
life at a dear price. Climbing out of the cave, he made again for the
Solway, in the expectation of getting into a boat, which, as he passed
before, he saw lying on its banks. This expectation did not fail him—the
boat was still there—in he vaulted, and, taking the oars into his hands,
pulled away with all his strength.
In a short time he had got
a considerable distance from shore and conceiving himself now safe, at
least, for a time, the energies which the instinctive love of life had
called up, suddenly failed, and he lay down in the bottom of the boat, in
a state of exhaustion approaching to inanity. The novelty, if not the
danger of his situation, had no power sufficient to rouse his torpid
faculties—a cataleptic influence seized every fibre of his body, and an
incubus of fearful weight pressed upon him, while his imagination
wandered, and dreams of battles and blood came over him, producing
convulsive starts and deep groans.
A dawning sense of the
danger of his situation at length beamed on his reviving imagination, but,
even after he was aware of the true nature of his condition—at sea in an
open boat—his exhausted limbs denied their office, and he remained for
some time in that situation, which is so often experienced in dreams, when
the mind is awake to a supposed danger, but the energies of safety are
asleep. When he fully recovered his faculties, and looked up and around
him, he discovered that he had drifted, with a receding tide, far down the
Solway, and that an easterly wind was beginning to ruffle the waves, and
impel the boat faster in its course. A new danger now threatened him. The
wind was fast increasing in intensity, the boat was clearly in full speed
for the ocean, and he perceived, with dismay, that he had escaped from a
death on land, to be swallowed up in the waves of the Atlantic.
The horrors of this
apprehension did not, however, prevent Maxwell from using the powers the
Almighty had still left him, with a view to save his life; but all his
energies did not suffice to enable him to dispute space with the dire
enemies he had now to contend with. He was now beyond the sight of land—a
deep fog surrounded him on all sides— the wind howled, and the waves
lashed round the small boat, as if they demanded the craft to resign their
victim. Maxwell continued to pull with his utmost power, but his efforts
only made more evident the insurmountable strength of the angry spirit of
the incipient storm; yet still he toiled, determined to die at the oar
rather than resign the last flickering hope, that gilded, with its faint
beam, the verge of his imagination.
Some hours passed in this
dreadful struggle, and nature was again exhausted. His arms became weak
and palsied, and the oars fell from his grasp into the sea, carrying with
them the last hope of life. Resigned, at last, to a fate which he had so
often and so narrowly escaped—death, so terrible even in its mildest
aspect; but, when marshalled in, and surrounded by the dread furies that
wait on the angry spirit of the storm, how indescribably awful!—Maxwell
looked silently and sadly over the boiling waters, and waited his doom. So
certain, so near, seemed to him that consummation of his woes, that he
already conceived himself as no longer belonging to the living. The death
of hope was the dissolution of his powers of perception; and his eye was
already fixed on the ghastly forms which despair throws round its victim,
as if in preparation for the final onset of the mighty king.
"Hallo!" thundered a
stentorian voice in the ear of the entranced and already half-dead victim.
Maxwell started to his feet, and beheld a boat alongside, with people
endeavouring to throw grappling irons, to bind the boat in which he was,
to the welcome stranger. In a short time he was removed into the other
boat; which, being supplied with sails, was, in a moment, in full flight
for the land. Having recovered himself, he looked round, and saw sitting
in the stern two of the king’s troops, who had been sent off to secure
him. "Again saved, and again consigned to death," he muttered to himself:
and, folding his arms in his breasts he looked sternly at his foes.
The boat soon approached
the land. Maxwell had been allowed to remain without manacles, for the
violent motion of the boat rendered it impossible for the soldiers to fix
them, and they reserved that duty till they should get into smooth water.
The surf on the shore, however, rendered that operation more difficult
than in the open sea; and a greater obstacle still remained in the
sickness of the soldiers who, unaccustomed to such rough sailing, hung
over the gunwale, and vomited into the sea. On reaching the land, the boat
struck violently on the beach, approaching and receding alternately, and
producing great annoyance to the sick men, who, Maxwell observed, were
totally unable to bind or guard him, while the sailors seemed to concern
themselves very little as to whether he remained or escaped. Taking
advantage of this favourable state of matters, he plunged into the sea,
and in a few minutes was on dry land.
On looking round him, he
saw that he was landed near to the place from whence he had sailed; but no
rest was yet in reserve for him. The remainder of the soldiers were on
their way to the beach to meet their companions. He resolved to proceed
again to the cave, and hastened with all the quickness in his power, that
he might secrete himself before they came up. The beagles were, however,
again at his heels, and the race was again for life. He soon reached the
woods, and as darkness was fast closing in, he began to entertain a slight
hope of ultimate escape. All was quiet save the flutter of a few small
birds. The wind had fallen, and the contrast which the scene now before
him presented, to that he had witnessed so shortly before, was so
remarkable, that he stood for a moment to contemplate it, and wept for the
cause which had banished him from his domains, and filled his cup with
such bitterness of sorrow. As he dashed the tears from his eyes, on
resuming his race, the sounds of the soldiers were again recognised by
him; and, on turning round, he saw them at no great distance, while he was
yet a considerable way from the cave. The advantage they had over him, by
being fresh and vigorous, soon became manifest. They gained upon him at
every step, and he was now in the same danger as when formerly Providence
snatched him from his enemies and hurried him under the ground. It was now
impossible to reach the quarry. The eyes of the soldiers were fixed upon
him, as if determined that he should not again escape, and he now finally
resolved to take his stand. Determined to die rather than yield, he placed
his back against an oak, and waited the coming of his foes. The sergeant
of the company had been considerably a-head of his companions during the
chase, and came up to the desperate man alone. He fell in an instant, shot
by a concealed pistol which Maxwell drew from his pocket; and his sword
was immediately seized, to enable his victor to barter his life for as
many of the lives of his persecutors as he could secure. The conflict was
short but terrible. Three men fell by the hand of Maxwell, and he resigned
his life, covered with many wounds.
The body of the unfortunate
but brave heir of Orchardtown was taken first to Dalbeatie. Betty Gordon
requested that, till it was otherwise disposed of, it might lie in her
house. The request was not denied; and many people having heard of the
brave manner in which he had met his fate, assembled to see the remains of
a man who exhibited on his person no fewer than fifteen sabre cuts. The
Spartan mothers would in vain have augured, from the position of his
wounds, that he died with his back to his foes. A safer construction would
have been, that his death was doubly glorious; for he gave his breast to
his enemies, and his defenceless back received only those wounds which
that could not contain.