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Wilson's Border Tales
Barnhill, the Freebooter


OR,
A RAT TRAP ON A LARGE SCALE.

At the foot of an assemblage of beautiful, picturesque rocks, called Minto Craggs, that overlook the vale of Teviot, there are the remains of an old square tower of prodigious strength, but of the simplest and rudest form.

This tower was the residence, in remote times, of a fierce outlaw, or Border reiver, of the name of Barnhill, of whom the following story is told. Having been much annoyed and interrupted in his forays into Cumberland by the captain, or military governor of Bewcastle, in that country, he determined to rid himself, by a contrivance no less bold than ingenious, at once and for ever of this troublesome enemy. Barnhill’s tower, though it might be described as we have already described it—namely, as a simple square building— yet was there a slight departure from this simplicity of form, occasioned by a small area or court-yard in front of the structure, formed by four very high walls, and through which only was the tower accessible.

The first movement in Barnhill’s contrivance to effect the purpose alluded to, was to have similar fastenings attached to the outside of the door which led into the courtyard spoken of with those by which it was secured on the inside, so that a person from without could fasten the door as effectually as a person within, and thus prevent all egress from the building. This done, Barnhill, attended by some followers, rode into Cumberland, and committed such depredations on the governor of Bewcastle as he knew would lead to immediate reprisals. Having effected this part of his object, he returned homewards, sending his retainers on before him, with the booty which had been taken from the governor.

Barnhill, as has been said, calculated on being attacked in turn by the party whom he had spoiled; and he concluded rightly; but it happened that this retribution came upon him a little sooner than he had expected; although, as the sequel will shew, this circumstance did not in the least mar the success of his plot. Happening to look back as he was leisurely about to turn the brow of a hill, within two or three miles of his own residence, and when he considered himself in perfect safety, he saw a party of eight or ten horsemen coming as hard as they could drive in the direction in which he was, and immediately after heard the deep baying of a bloodhound.

"If ye be the captain of Bewcastle," said Barnhill to himself, as he looked at the horsemen, "this is mair than I bargained for."

The captain of Bewcastle it certainly was, and Barnhill was indeed the object of his pursuit--a fact which the latter soon discovered, and immediately took to his heels; for he was at this moment on foot, having, not half an hour before, sent forward his horse by the only retainer he had kept about him, with the booty with which it was loaded. But, though Barnhill might have defied the horsemen, by taking to inaccessible places, such a proceeding would have been of no service whatever in securing him from the pursuit of the dog, who was fast gaining on him, and whose ferocious growl was becoming every moment more and more audible.

There was but one way of arresting the career of these savage animals, when in pursuit of their prey; and this way, Barnhill, from long experience, knew well. It was to spill some blood in the way of the hound, which has the effect of destroying his scent. Aware of this, as we have said, the courageous outlaw quickly bared his left arm, drew a knife from his belt, inflicted several deep wounds on his arm, and steadily passed the streaming limb over several yards of ground, until he thought he had made such a track of blood as would certainly arrest the progress of the dog.

This done, he proceeded in his flight. In a few minutes afterwards, the hound, keeping the precise track of the object of his pursuit, came upon the blood, and was, as a matter of course, instantly thrown out. The baffled dog was shortly joined by the horsemen; and, for some time, the whole party were at fault. Soon discovering, however, the cause of the interruption, they resumed the pursuit; but the time lost enabled Barnhill to gain his castle before they could make up to him. It was a close run, however; for the former had little more time than to enter his own gates before his pursuers were upon him. These, on arriving before the tower, hastily dismounted from their horses; and, knowing they were close on Barnhill’s heels, for they saw him enter the gate, rushed sword in hand, and with loud shouts of exultation, into the little courtyard, already described, in front of the castle, thinking that, as the gate had been left open, which they attributed to the hurry of the fugitive’s flight, they would find an easy access to the interior of the building. Full of this idea, they rushed on the door which, opening from the court, led immediately into the tower; but were rather disconcerted on finding it well secured. For some time, however, they endeavoured to force it open; but, finding this vain, they were about to retire, to consult on some other plan of getting into the building, when, lo! to their utter consternation and dismay, they found the outer gate shut, and no means of egress left them! They discovered, in short, that they were fairly entrapped. While they had been employed in attempting to force the inner door, Barnhill had slung a man down with a rope from one of the windows at the back of the tower; and this person having stolen round to the front gate, had secured it, unperceived, in the way mentioned, and then quietly awaited the result; but not, however, before he had taken possession of the invaders’ horses, an additional booty, and removed them out of the way.

At the moment that the captain of Bewcastle and his men made the discovery of their real situation, a loud shout of laughter arose from the battlement of the tower, when the hapless invaders, looking up, discovered Barnhill and his men looking down upon them, quietly enjoying their dilemma, and in raptures with the success of the contrivance which had brought them into it; for they were, in truth, now like as many rats in a trap.

We wish, for the credit of Barnhill, that the story had finished in the same spirit of humour in which it begins, and with which it is marked throughout; but we are sorry to say this is not the case. Reversing the usual conduct of dramatic exhibitions, Barnhill gives us, on this occasion, at any rate, tragedy after farce. When that fierce Borderer and his men had exhausted their mirth, and the joke of the captured invaders had become stale, these ferocious outlaws might be seen coolly preparing, even with the smile yet on their faces, to finish in blood what had begun in laughter and glee. Bows might now be seen stringing in all directions, on the top of the tower, and deadly shafts fitting to the cord. We need hardly say what followed. The unhappy captives were deliberately shot at from the battlements, in the midst of as much fun, and frolic, and witty jest, as if they had been a herd of deer, until the last man had fallen, when the outlaws, rushing down with swords in their hands, completed the work of death which the arrow had left unfinished—and thus perished the captain of Bewcastle and his men.


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