It was about five o’clock
of the afternoon in the month of August, that a troop of horse was seen
crossing the Glassrig—a flat and heathy muir—and bearing down with great
speed upon Mitchelslacks. Mrs Harkness had been very recently delivered of
a child, and still occupied her bed, in what was denominated the chamber,
or cha’mer—an apartment separated from the rest of the house, and set
apart for more particular occasions; her husband, the object of pursuit,
having had previous intimation, by the singing or whistling of a bird, (as
was generally reported on such occasions,) had betaken himself, some hours
before, to the mountain and the cave—his wonted retreat on similar visits.
From this position, on the brow of a precipice, inaccessible by any save a
practised foot, he could see his own dwelling, and mark the movements
which were going on outside. The troop, having immediately surrounded the
houses, and set a guard upon every door and window, as well as an outpost,
or spy, upon an adjoining eminence, immediately proceeded with the
search—a search conducted with the most brutal incivility, and even
indelicacy; subjecting every child and servant to apprehensions of the
most horrid and revolting character. It would be every way improper to
mention even a tithe of the oaths and blasphemy which were not only
permitted, but sanctioned and encouraged, by their impious and regardless
leader. Suffice it to say, that, after every other corner and crevice was
searched in vain, the cha’mer was invaded; and the privacy of a female, in
very interesting and delicate circumstances, rudely and suddenly entered.
"The old fox is here," said
Clavers, passing his sword up to the hilt betwixt the mother and her
infant, sleeping unconsciously on her arm, and thrusting it home with such
violence that the point perforated the bed, and even penetrated the
"Toss out the whelp,"
vociferated Red Rob—always forward on such occasions—"and the b—ch will
follow." And, suiting the action to the word, he rolled the sleeping, and
happily well-wrapped, infant on the floor.
"The Lord preserve my puir
bairn," was the instantaneous and instinctive exclamation of the agonised
and now demented mother—springing at the same time from her couch, and
catching up her child with a look of the most despairing alarm. A cloud of
darkened feeling seemed to pass over the face and features of the infant,
["In the light of heaven its face, Grew dark as they were speaking."] and
a cry of helpless suffering succeeded, at once to comfort and to
madden the mother. "A murderous and monstrous herd are ye all," said she,
again resuming her position, and pressing the affrighted, rather than
injured, child to her breast. "Limbs of Satan and enemies of God, begone!
He whom ye seek is not here; nor will the God he serves and you
defy, ever suffer him, I fervently hope and trust, to fall into your
merciless and unhallowed hands."
At this instant a boy about
twelve years of age was dragged into the room, and questioned respecting
the place of his father’s retreat, sometimes in a coaxing, and at others
in a threatening manner. The boy presented to every inquiry the aspect of
dogged resistance and determined silence.
"Have the bear’s cub to the
croft," said Clavers, "and shoot him on the spot."
The boy was immediately
removed; and the distracted mother left, happily for herself in a state of
complete insensibility. There grew, and there still grows, a rowan tree in
the corner of the garden or kailyard of Mitchelslacks; to this tree or
bush the poor boy was fastened with cords, having his eyes bandaged, and
being made to understand, that, if he did not reveal his father’s retreat,
a ball would immediately pass through his brain. The boy shivered,
attempted to speak, then seemed to recover strength and resolution, and
"Do you wish to smell
gunpowder," ejaculated Rob, firing a pistol immediately under his nose,
whilst the ball perforated the earth a few paces off.
The boy uttered a loud and
unearthly scream, and his head sunk upon his breast. At this instant, the
aroused and horrified mother was seen on her bended knees, with clasped
hands, and eyes in which distraction rioted, at the feet of the
destroyers. But nature, which had given her strength for the effort, now
deserted her, and she fell lifeless at the feet of her apparently murdered
son. Even the heart of Clavers was somewhat moved at this scene; and he
was in the act of giving orders for an immediate retreat, when there
rushed into the circle, in all the frantic wildness of a maniac, at once
the father and the husband. He had observed from his retreat the doings of
that fearful hour; and, having every reason to conclude that he was
purchasing his own safety at the expense of the lives of his whole family,
he had issued from the cave, and hurled himself from the steep, and was
how in the presence of those whom he deemed the murderers of his family.
heartless fiends—are ye all!— and is this your work, ye sons of the wicked
and the accursed one? What! could not one content ye? Was not the
boy enough to sacrifice on your accursed temple to Moloch, but ye must
imbrue your hands in the blood of a weak, an infirm, a helpless woman? Oh,
may the God of the covenant," added he, bending reverently down upon his
knees, and looking towards heaven, "may the God of Jacob forgive me for
cursing ye! And thou man of blood," (addressing Clavers personally,)
"think ye not that the blood of Brown, and of my darling child, and my
beloved wife—think ye not, wot ye not, that their blood, and the blood of
the thousand saints which ye have shed, will yet be required, ay,
fearfully required, even to the last drop, by an avenging God, at your
Having uttered these words
with great and awful energy, he was on the point of drawing his sword,
concealed under the flap of his coat, and of selling his life as dearly as
possible, when Mrs Harkness, who had now recovered her senses, rushed into
his arms, exclaiming—
"O Thomas, Thomas, what is
this ye hae done? Oh, beware, beware! I am yet alive and unskaithed. God
has shut the mouths of the lions; they have not been permitted to hurt
me. And our puir boy, too, moves his head, and gives token of life.
But you, you, my dear, dear, infatuated husband—oh, into what hands have
ye fallen, and to what a death are ye now reserved!"
"Unloose the band,"
vociferated Clavers—"make fast your prisoner’s hands, and, in the devil’s
name, let us have done with this drivelling!"
There was a small
public-house, at this time, at Closeburn mill, and into this Clavers and
his party went for refreshment, whilst an adjoining barn, upon which a
guard was set, served to secure the prisoner. No sooner was Mr Harkness
left alone, and in the dark—for it was now nightfall—than he began to
think of some means or other of effecting his escape. The barn was happily
known to him; and he recollected that, though the greater proportion of
the gable was built of stone and lime, yet that a small part towards the
top, as was sometimes the case in these days, was constructed of turf; and
that, should he effect an opening through this soft material, he might
drop with safety upon the top of a peat-stack, and thus effect his escape
to Creechope Linn, with every pass and cave of which he was intimately
acquainted. In a word, his escape was effected in this manner; and, though
the alarm was immediately given, and large stones rolled over the
precipices of the adjoining linn, he was safely ensconsed in darkness, and
under the covert of a projecting rock; and ultimately (for, in the course
of a few days, King William and liberty were the order of the day) he
returned to his wife and his family, there to enjoy for many years that
happiness which the possession of a conscience void of offence towards God
and towards man is sure to impart. The brother, however, of this more
favoured individual, was not so fortunate, as may be gathered from
Woodrow, and the "Cloud of Witnesses;" for he was executed ere the day of
deliverance, at the Gallowlee, and his most pathetic and eloquent address
is still extant.
Let us rejoice with
trembling, that we live in an age and under a government so widely
different from those now referred to; and whilst on our knees we pour
forth the tribute of thankfulness to God, let us teach our children to
prize the precious inheritance so dearly purchased by our forefathers.