In the midst of the Eskdale
mountains, a scene was exhibited of no ordinary interest. A poor captive
stood bound and blinded; a party of five soldiers, under the command of a
sergeant, was ordered out to shoot him. The poor man had asked for five
minutes of indulgence, which was granted; during which time he had sung
some verses of a psalm and prayed. It was night, and full moon. It was in
the midst of a mountain glen, and by the side of a mountain stream; all
was still, and peaceful, and lonely around—but the passions of men were
awake. There was a voice—it was the voice of Johnstone of Westerhall—
which commanded the men to do their duty, and to blow out the brains of
the poor kneeling captive. "If I do, may I be hanged!" exclaimed the
sergeant, standing out before his men, and looking defiance on his
captain. "What?" exclaimed Jonnstone," do you dare to disobey my orders?
Soldiers, seize Sergeant Watson and bind him!" In the meantime, partly
through the connivance of the men, and partly from the confusion which
ensued, the captive had made his escape. To him the localities of this
glen were all familiar; and, by esconcing himself beneath and beyond a
sheet of foaming water which was projected from an apron fall in the linn,
John Wilson effected his escape for the time.
The sergeant was
immediately carried to headquarters at Lockerbie, and tried by a
court-martial for disobedience of orders. The court consisted of Grierson
of Lag, Winram of Wigton, Douglas of Drumlanrig, and Bruce of Bunyean. The
fact of disobedience was not denied—but the soldier pled the obligations
which he had been under to the Wilson family, during his distress; and his
consequent unwillingness to become the instrument of John Wilson’s murder.
Even Clavers was somewhat softened by the statement, and was half inclined
to sustain the reason, when Johnstone struck in, and urged strongly the
necessity of preserving subordination at all times in the army—and
particularly in these times, when instances of disobedience to orders were
anything but uncommon. Douglas of Drumlanrig seemed likewise to be on the
point of yielding to the better feelings of humanity, when Grierson,
Winram, and Bruce decided, by a majority, that Sergeant Watson should be
carried back to the ground where the act had been committed, and shot dead
on the spot.
The poor sargeant’s eyes
were tied up, and the muskets of four soldiers levelled at his head, when
a scream was heard—and a lovely girl, in the most frantic manner, threw
herself into the arms of the victim.
"You shall not murder him!"
she exclaimed; "or, if ye do, ye shall murder us both. What!—did he not
save the life of my poor brother, and shall I scruple to lay down my life
for him? Oh, no, no! Level your murderous weapons, and bury us both, when
your wish is done, in one grave. Oh, you never knew what woman’s love was
till now." He strained her to his bosom in reply.
"Keep off, keep off!"
exclaimed a man’s voice from behind. "Save, for Heaven and a Saviour’s
sake—oh, save innocent life! I am the victim you are in quest of—bind me,
blindfold me, shoot me dead—but spare, oh, spare, in mercy and in justice,
youth and innocence, the humane heart, and the warm young bosom. Is not
she my sister, ye men of blood!—and have none of ye a sister? Is not he my
saviour, ye messengers of evil?—and have none of ye gratitude for deeds of
mercy done? Surely, surely"—addressing himself to Westerhall—"ye will not,
ye cannot pronounce that fearful word which must prove fatal to three at
once; for, as God is my hope, this day and on this spot will I die, if not
to avert, at least to share the fate of these two."
It was remarked that a tear
stood in the eye of Clavers, who turned his horse’s head about, and
galloped off the field, the men looked to Westerhall for orders; but he
had turned his head aside, to look after his superior officer. It was
evidently a fearful moment of suspense. The muskets shook in the men’s
hands; and without saying one word, Johnstone turned his horse’s head
around, and rode over the hill after his superior.
The case was tried at
Dumfries, and, hardened as bosoms were in these awful times, many an eye,
unwont to weep, was filled with tears, as the circumstances of this
fearful case unfolded themselves. Jean Wilson never looked so lovely as
when, with a boldness altogether foreign to her general conduct, she
confessed and exulted in her crime. The sergeant admitted the justice of
his sentence, but pled his inability to avoid the guilt. John Wilson
admitted his want of conformity, and urged his father’s murder as
sufficient ground for his rooted hatred of the murderers. The jury were
not divided. They pronounced a sentence of acquittal, and the court rang
with shouts of applause. From that day and hour, Johnstone of Westerhall
resigned his commission, and, betaking himself to private life, is said to
have exhibited marks of genuine repentance.
The woods around Closeburn
Castle are indeed most beautiful; and that winding glen which leads to
Gilchristland, is romantic in no ordinary degree. That is the land of the
Watsons, the lineal descendants of this poor sergeant, who, immediately
after the trial, married sweet Jeanie Wilson, and settled ultimately in
the farm of Gilchristland, where they and theirs, many sons and daughters,
have lived in respectability and independence ever since. That
three-storey house which overlooks the valley of the Nith, and is visible
from Drumlanrig to the Stepends of Closeburn, is tenanted by Alexander
Watson, one of the wealthiest farmers and cattle-dealers in the South of