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Wilson's Border Tales
Gleanings of the Covenant

No. 5. The Rescue at Enterkin


The Pass of Enterkin is well known to us. How often have we passed through it in the joyous season of youth, when travelling to and from the College of Edinburgh! It is deep and a steep ravine amongst the Lowther Hills, which separate Dumfries from Lanarkshire; through which a torrent pours its thousand and one cascades—

"Amidst the rocks around,
Devalling and falling into a pit profound."

The road, which is a mere track, winds along the banks of the torrent, ever and anon covered and flanked by huge masses of rock, which have been shaken from the brow of the mountain, or been excavated, as it were, and brought into high relief, by the roaring flood. About the middle of this pass, as if it were for the express purpose of relieving the thirst of the weary traveller, in a wilderness "unknown to public view," and at a distance from any human habitation, there sparkles out, from beneath a huge mass of grey stone, a most plentiful and refreshing fount or well of spring-water. How often have we enjoyed the refreshment of this spring, in the society of the companions of our travel and of our early days! Here we reposed at noon making use of refreshments, and indulging in all the wild and ungoverned hilarity of high spirits and bosoms void of care. Yet, even amidst our madness, we could not help viewing, or at least imagining that we viewed, a blood-spot on the very rock from which the water burst in such purity and abundance, and recollecting the sad narrative with which that stone was connected—for we were all Closeburn lads, and had heard the tale of the Pass of Enterkin repeated by our nearest and dearest relatives. Fletcher of Saltoun says—"Let me make the popular songs of a country, and any one who pleases may make the laws." We would go a little farther, and say that, in youth, the character is decidedly formed by traditionary lore; and that thus mothers contribute, far more than they are aware of at the time, to the formation of the future character—to the happiness or misery, through life, of their children. At least, we know this, that we would not give what we learned from our mother, for all that we have ever attained either by private or public study. But to our story.

It was during a drifty night, in the month of February 168—, that a party of twelve individuals were travelling up this awful pass. The party consisted of six dragoons, who had dismounted from and were leading their horses, and four country people, three males and one female, whom they were driving before them, bound as prisoners, on their way to Edinburgh. The drift was choking, and they had ever and again to turn round to prevent suffocation. There were other and imminent dangers. At every turn, the road, from the eddies of the drift, became invisible; and they were in danger of losing footing, and of being precipitated many fathoms down into the bottom of the roaring linn beneath. The soldiers were loud in their curses against their commanding officer, Captain Douglas, who had sent them, under command of a sergeant, on this business, at such an unseasonable hour, in such a tempest, and along such a difficult road; whilst the poor Nonconformists—for such they were—employed their breath, in the intervals of the blast, in singing a part of the 121st Psalm:--

"I to the hills will lift mine eyes
From whence doth come mine aid;
My safety cometh from the Lord,
Who heaven and earth hath made."

This employment was matter of scoffing and merriment to the soldiers, who said they would prefer a good fire and a warm supper, with a kind landlady, to all the hills in Scotland. They continued, however, captive and guard to advance, till they arrived at a spot somewhat sheltered by a rock, beneath which the snow had melted, and presented a black appearance amidst the surrounding whiteness. It was manifest that this was a well of spring-water; and the sergeant called a halt, that the soldiers might partake of some refreshment from a flask of brandy which he had wisely provided. The poor prisoners were not so well supplied, and were admonished, by the licentious and cruel-hearted soldiers, to refresh themselves with a stave. Amidst the prisoners, there was a young woman of great beauty, the daughter of the laird of Stennis or Stonehouse; whom, because she had refused to betray her own father, and had intercommuned, as they termed it, with a young man in her neighbourhood, to whom she was promised in marriage, they were dragging onward to Edinburgh to stand her trial along with her uncle Thomas Harkness, Peter M’Kechnie, and John Gibson. After the soldiers had made several applications to the flask, one of them manifestly intoxicated put his arms around the maiden’s waist, and, using language improper to be mentioned, was in the act of compelling her to admit his unseemly and dishonourable addresses, when all at once, a musket was fired, and the soldier fell down, gave one groan, and expired. This was clearly a signal which had been anticipated by the survivors, for, in an instant, they were out of sight, with the exception of poor John Gibson, who was shot through the head, as he was making for the linn beneath. There was an intended rescue; for several more shots were fired from behind the rock, and one of the surviving soldiers was severely wounded. However, the three remaining prisoners had escaped for the time, probably through their better knowledge of the road, which, at this point, leads to a fordable part of the torrent. This was the famous rescue of Enterkin, mentioned in Woodrow, in consequence of which the whole lower district of Dumfriesshire was laid under military law; and Grierson and Douglas, and Dalyell of Binns, went about like roaring lions, devouring and murdering at their pleasure. The rescue had been planned and conducted by William M’Dougal, the young laird of Glenross, who knowing the route the soldiers would take, and arranging the thing with Mary Maxwell, had resolved upon a rescue at this very spot. The impertinence, however, of the soldier, had accelerated the catastrophe; for Robert M’Turk, --one of his own servants—whom, along with a young band of seven or eight from Monihive he had associated with himself in the plot— observing the indignity to which Miss Maxwell was exposed, could not wait orders, but killed the brute on the spot. Poor Robert suffered for his rashness; for a volley was immediately fired in the direction of the shot, which proved immediately fatal to him, and wounded, though slightly, one or two of his associates. William M’Dougal, immediately observing the affray, followed Mary, who, according to a preconcerted scheme, had fled into the linn; and, detaching themselves from the other two, for purposes of safety, they, with great difficulty, gained the summit of the Lowther Hills, from which the snow had drifted into the hollows; and, after various efforts to secure shelter, were compelled to sit down amidst the cold drift, and under the scoug of a peat-brow. Poor Mary was entirely overcome; but her lover was strong and resolute; and, having provided himself with sufficient refreshments, these two attached lovers felt themselves comparatively comfortable, even amidst the snow and the tempest. Burns talks of "a canny hour at een," and Goldsmith of "the hawthorn shade for whispering lovers made;"—but here was the bare fell; the cold snow accumulating in drifted wreaths around their persons; and yet Will never kissed his Mary with greater good-will; nor did Mary, at any other time—not even in the snug "cha’mer ayont the closs"—cling so closely to the breast or to the lips of her faithful lover and the saviour of her life. But what was to be done? The tempest continued unabated. It was twelve o’clock, and the moon was up, though only visible at intervals. There was no house known to them nearer than the shieling at Lowtherslacks, about two miles distant. The hollows were heaped up with drift, and it was scarcely possible to clear or to avoid them in directing their course towards Lowtherslacks. What was to be done? They might have kindled a fire with Will’s musket; but where were the combustibles? In spite of French brandy, a chillness was gradually coming over them; and they were upon the point of falling into that fatal state in such a situation—namely, into a sound sleep— when their attention was aroused by the barking, or rather howling of a dog in their immediate neighbourhood. At first, Will sprung to his gun; but, upon reflection, he began to divine the cause; and, whilst raising his voice to invite the approach of the dog, the animal was literally betwixt his shoulders. It was manifestly in a great state of alarm; and looked and pulled at his clothes, as if inviting him to follow it. This was immediately done; and the couple were led on, across the moss, into a ravine or hollow, on the further side of which, where the snow lay deep, the dog began to scrape and work most vigorously. In a little, the end or corner of a shepherd’s plaid made its appearance, and ultimately the full-length figure of a man, who was still warm, and breathed as in a deep and refreshing sleep. With much difficulty, the reclining body was aroused into perception, and he was made aware of his danger, and help which had thus miraculously arrived. There being still some of the cordial remaining, it was immediately applied to the awakened sleeper’s lips; and, after a few minutes of mutual inquiry, it was resolved to attempt the road to Lowtherslacks, whence the shepherd had come, in quest of, and to secure the safety of his master’s flocks. This, however, would have been almost impossible, had not the shepherd’s son, with a young and stout lad, been in the neighbourhood, and actually in quest of the perishing man. With much difficulty, however, and through some danger from scaurs and deep wreaths, the party at last reached the sheiling, where a half-distracted wife and a daughter, woman-grown, were thrown into an ecstasy by their safe arrival.

Such accommodation and refreshment as the house could afford was freely and kindly given; and Mary Maxwell slept soundly, after all her troubles and escapes, in the arms of the shepherd’s daughter.

Next morning brought light, a keen frost, a clear sky, and many serious thoughts regarding the safety of all concerned. The shepherd was not ignorant of the risk which he ran; and the guests were equally aware of the danger to which this hospitable family was exposed, in consequence of an act of humanity, or rather of gratitude. It was resolved, at last, that, till the weather mitigated, Mary Maxwell should remain in hiding, in the corner of a ewe bught, in the neighbourhood—having her food supplied from the house, and coming out occasionally, during the darkness of night in particular, to join the family party. This small erection had been made to shelter one or two ewes, which had felt the seventies of a late spring, during lambing time. It was lined with rushes, built of turf, and scarcely visible even when you were close upon it, in consequence of a high wall, into a corner or angle of which it was fixed, like a limpet to a rook. William Macdougal bore away, by a distant glen which opened into the Clyde; and, having promised to return for his beloved Mary when occasion should suit, he was seen no more for the present.

Leadhills was the nearest inhabited abode to this lonely sheiling; and any little necessaries which so humble a cottage required, were obtained from this village. In consequence of this intercourse, it was early known at the sheiling of Lowtherslacks, that the strictest search had been made, and was still making, for the prisoners, and for the rescuers at the Pass of Enterkin; that several had been taken, and marched off to Edinburgh; but whether William M’Dougal was of the number or not, was not ascertained. In fact, it was more than dangerous to make any direct inquiry respecting any particular individual, as attention was thus drawn to his case; and informers were kept and paid all over the country, (under the superintendence of the Aberdeen Curate;) to give information to the military, even of the most casual surmise. It was during a dark night, about a fortnight after Will M’Dougal’s disappearance, that he reappeared at Lowtherslacks, and spent the whole evening in company with his beloved Mary and her kind entertainers. He had learned, he said, whilst in hiding at Crawfordjohn, that the soldiers had been called off to quell an apprehended insurrection at Glencairn, and had taken this opportunity of revisiting the spot which was so pleasantly associated in his mind. He had been observed, however, in crossing the hills, which had now escaped from a part of their covering, and information had been lodged with Grierson at Wanlockhead, of the fact. The truth was, that the report of the absence of the dragoons from the hill country was a mere device to bring forth the poor Nonconformist from his hiding-place, and to expose him the more readily to surprise. The fireside of Lowtherslacks was never more cheerfully encircled than on this memorable evening. The peats burned brightly, and the sooty rafters looked down from their smoky recesses, with a placid gleam, on the happy group. About twelve o’clock, it was judged safe to separate—Mary to return to her straw bed in the sheepfold, and William to make the best of his way back to his retreat at Crawfordjohn. Next morning, an hour before daybreak, and under the dim light of a waning-moon, saw this solitary cottage surrounded with armed men on horseback. The inmates were immediately summoned from their beds, and a strict and unceremonious search for William Macdougal commenced. The father, the son, the wife, the daughters, and the herd lad, were all turned out, half naked, to the croft before the door. Never, perhaps, was there a more fearful and melancholy gathering. That moon,

"Well known to hynd and matron old,"

in her last quarter, hung on the southern horizon, ready to shroud herself from such unhallowed doings in the mountain shadow. Above them was the famous burial-ground, where, time out of mind, the suicides of two counties had been enearthed. The earth was partially blackened by a thaw, which still continued; but vast wreaths lay in the hollows, and looked out in cold and chilly brightness from their mountain recesses. Grierson insisted, in terms peculiar to himself, on the old shepherd and his family giving information of the retreat of Macdougal, who had been traced but last night to the neighbourhood. It was mentioned by one of the dragoous, that he even saw the herd lad forgather with a figure, which he took to be William Macdougal, on the hill top; but he was too distant, and without his horse, else he would have given chase.

The young man was interrogated, but refused to give any information on the subject. Grierson lost all patience, swore a round oath, and, presenting his pistol, shot him dead on the spot. The report of firearms brought up two figures scarcely discernible in the dubious light, from the fold-dyke. The one was a female, the other a male. O God! they were those of Mary and William, who, being unable to withdraw himself from his beloved, had esconced himself, along with her, amongst the rushes of the little cot. They came rushing on in frenzy, exclaiming that they were there to suffer—to be shot—to be tortured; but entreating that their kind and innocent entertainers might not suffer on their account. "So ho!" exclaimed Grierson, "we have unkenneled the foxes at last; secure them, lambs, and let us march for the guid town of Biggar; we will reach it ere night; and then, ho, my jolly lovers, for Edinburgh—sweet Edinburgh! Can you sing, my sweet maiden—

"Now, wat ye wha I met yestreen?"

It’s a pretty song, my neat one; and all about Edinburgh, and Arthur’s seat, and love, and sweet William. You will certainly give us a stanza or two by the way? It beats your covenanting psalm-singing hollow "—and then he sang out, in a whining, covenanting tone—

"‘Wo’s me, that I in Meshech am
A sojourner so long,
Or that I in the tents do dwell
To Grierson that belong."

March, march, devils and devil’s dams; we have now picked up a goodly company of these heather-bleats—these whistling mire-snipes of the hills—no less than eight; we will march them, every clute, in at the West Port, to glorify God at the head of the Grassmarket. March! It is broad day, and we have a pretty long journey. As for you," (speaking to the shepherd,) "old sheep’s head and moniplies, we will leave you and your good friends to do the duties of sepulchre to this bit of treason. There is good ground, I am told, hard by, where the weary rest. You can all cut your own throats, to save us the trouble, and your churchyard accommodation is secured to you. Good-by, old Lucky and young Chucky! I have no time at present to doff my bonnet, and do the polite; and your joe, there, is past speaking, I suspect much more past kissing. Good-by! good-by!" said the monster, waving his sword, and laughing immoderately at his own savage wit.

The body of Sandy Laidlaw was indeed carefully interred, not where pointed out by Lag, but in the churchyard of Leadhills, over which a small headstone still retains the letters—"A. L., murdered 1687." Poor Leezy Lawson, who was indeed the betrothed of Sandy, never saw a day to thrive after this dreadful morning. She went out of one strong convulsion into another, for many hours; and then sank into a lethargic unconsciousness, which terminated in mental and bodily imbecility, which ended, in less than twelve months, in death. Her body lies alongside of that of her lover; but there is no intimation of this fact on the stone; and all marks of the presence on earth of these two once living and happy beings has passed away—etiam periere ruinoe—their very dust has perished.

The Court at Edinburgh was crowded on the trial of the state prisoners, particularly of those who had been concerned in the rescue at Enterkin. There Lauderdale sat, after an evening’s debauch, with his long hair hanging uncombed about his shoulders and over his brow; with his waistcoat unbuttoned towards the bottom; his face, round, swollen, red, and fiery; and his eyes swimming in every cruel and unhallowed imagining. Poor Mary Maxwell, trembling, weak, and worn out with travelling on foot, was placed at the bar; and M’Kenzie, the King’s Advocate, proceeded against her. Her indictment was in the usual style. She was accused of harbouring Nonconformists; of intercommuning with outlaws; of conspiring and aiding in the hellish rescue at Enterkin, where murder had been committed; and in continuing, after all due warning, to hold intercourse with the King’s enemies. But the proof of all this was somewhat deficient; and even in these awful times, such was the respect for public opinion, that the Court durst not, in the absence of some direct evidence, pronounce sentence of death. She, as well as William M’Dougal, against whom there was still less evidence, were remitted to Dunottar Castle—of which march and unheard of misery we have already told the tale—and were to have been exported thence, in due time, to America; but mercy and King William intercepted, the cruel sentence; and William M’Dougal and Mary Maxwell were permitted to return to their native glen in peace. The Macdougals of Glenross are sprung from this root, and still continue a respected name in the valley.


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