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Wilson's Border Tales
The Blacksmith of Plumtrees


A weary, drucken wight—as we say, in Scotland, of a certain description of persons, whom we may negatively distinguish as not being members of the Temperance Society—was Archy Drummond, blacksmith at Plumtrees, in the south of Scotland, and who flourished about the middle of the seventeenth century.

Archy, though notoriously much more fond of handling the ale-cap than the forehammer—doubtless, because it was more easily managed—and otherwise a little wild, was, nevertheless, an obliging, good-natured fellow, somewhat blunt and boisterous in his speech and manners, but full of fun, and glee, and good humour. His laugh was decidedly the loudest and the heartiest in the parish, and it is certain that it was, by far, the oftenest heard. Archy, moreover, possessed a great deal of what is called mother-wit; and there were few who could successfully encounter him in a trial of strength in this way. He was a universal favourite, too; and even those who despised his habits could not help liking the man.

At the period of our story, immediately preceding the well-known battle of Philiphaugh, Archy was in his forty-fourth year—a stout, rattling, care-for-nothing fellow, ready for any frolic, and especially ready at all times to do his best endeavours to quench the burning spark that was lodged in his throat; the common calamity, it is said, of all belonging to his craft.

Strenuous had been Archy’s efforts, during all his bygone life, to extinguish this annoying little fiery particle, so dangerously located; and many scores of gallons of ale had he poured down with the view of effecting this desirable riddance; but in vain—nay, worse than in vain; for, the more he swallowed, the more fiercely burned the little tenacious malignant point. In the hope, however, of ultimately gaining the day, Archy continued to pursue the drenching system with the most laudable perseverance; and he determined to do so, as long and as often as he could get liquor wherewith to practise—ale, of course; for he had a great contempt for, and no faith whatever in, the virtues of water, as an extinguisher, and always said that it was a drink fitted only for the brute creation.

It cannot be denied, however, nor do we desire to deny it, that Archy’s veneration for, and devotion to, the ale-cap, had a very sensible effect upon his meal girnel, which it kept away at a most uncomfortably low ebb. In truth, though Archy was a remarkably clever tradesman, and did, occasionally labour at the anvil, with most exemplary assiduity—often putting through his single pair of hands, in one day, the work of two; yet, as this was only by fits and starts, he had great difficulty in making the two ends meet. He was, in fact, in considerable straits, as his wife and family but too sensibly found.

For weeks together, Archy’s pocket was unpolluted with coin, and, although he always contrived, by some means or other, to get fully as much drink as was calculated to do him any good, his family had frequently but too much reason to complain of both the quantity and the quality of their food.

But better days were in store for them, and for Archy too; little, as it must be confessed, he deserved them.

One day, while working in his smithy, a gentleman, on horseback, rode up to the door, and asked if Archy would give him a cast of his office, by securing one of the shoes of his horse, which had got loose.

"I’ll do that, Sir, in the turnin’ o’ a cart wheel," replied Archy; at the same time beginning to bustle about in quest of the necessary tools. The gentleman dismounted, and his horse was fastened to a ring in the wall by the side of the door, to secure him during the impending operation. Before proceeding to work, however, Archy remarked that it would be as well to remove from the animal’s back a certain pair of enormous, and apparently well-filled saddle-bags which were strapped across, just behind the saddle; and he was about to perform this preliminary duty, when the stranger eagerly intercepted him, saying, rather sternly, that he would take them off himself. He accordingly removed them with his own hands but with a difficulty, from their extraordinary weight, which not a little surprised the blacksmith, who observed, besides, that the stranger endeavoured to place them on the ground as softly as possible; but in this he did not succeed so far as to prevent Archy from discovering, by the heavy jingling sound they emitted, when they came in contact with the ground, that they were filled with coin, a circumstance which confounded the blacksmith altogether. "My word," quoth Archy to himself, in making this discovery, "that chield, whae’er he may be, an hooe’er he may hae come by’t, has gotten his ain share at least o’ this wand’s gear. Oh! gin I had a pickle o’t!" The saddle-bags, or money-bags, as they might have been with equal propriety called, in short, fairly sent Archy’s wits a wool-gathering. At one time, he was lost in admiration and wonder, at the enormous amount which, he had no doubt, they contained. At another, he was grievously puzzled in endeavouring to form some plausible conjecture as to who the gentleman could be,where he could have got all the money, and whither he could be going with it.

Although thus troubled in mind, however, Archy went through the job he was engaged to perform, cleverly, and much to the satisfaction of his employer, who seemed pleased with his activity, and with his intelligence; of which last he had obtained some proofs, in the course of the conversation which he held with him while the work on which he had employed him was in progress. This work having been completed, Archy was paid, and he had no reason whatever to complain of his remuneration; but the stranger evinced no hurry to depart—on the contrary, he rather, as Archy thought, and he could not understand what it meant, seemed studiously to protract the preparations for the continuance of his journey. This certainly was the case, and there was a reason for it.

"Are you well acquainted, friend," said the stranger, addressing Archy, "with the road from this to Philiphaugh--the shortest and quietest way?" he added.

Archy replied that he "kent that as weel as he kent the road to his ain bellows. Montrose," continued Archy, with an unnecessary amplification, which was one of his besetting sins, "is encamped there just now, I hear."

"So I have heard," answered the stranger drily; and, after a short pause, added—"I am going to Philiphaugh, friend; but I am desirous of taking the quietest, and most unfrequented route. Will you undertake," he said abruptly, "to guide me by such a route, if I pay you well for it."

Archy, who now began to smell a rat—that is, began to suspect, which was indeed, true, that the money the stranger carried was for the use of the Royalist army—at once expressed a willingness to undertake the office proposed to him; at the same time assuring the stranger that he would conduct him by a route so quiet and unfrequented, that it might be sawn," he said, "wi’ half crowns, without the least fear o’ any o’ them being e’er picked up."

"That’s exactly what I want," replied the stranger; "but you must mount, smith," he added, "you must provide yourself with a horse."

"I’ll do that, too, sir," said Archy, smartly, and already beginning to undo his apron-strings, and to make other preparations for evacuating the smithy. "Willie Dowie, or Haggis Willie, as we ca’ him here, sir, ‘ill lea’ me his broon powny, in a minot, for the askin’; and though its nae great beauty, maybe, to look at, it’s as teugh a bit o’ horse flesh as e’er I ca’d a shoe on. A real deevil, Sir, at a brastle wi’ a brae."

Having delivered himself to the above purpose and effect, Archy went in quest of Willie Dowie’s pony, which, as he expected, he readily obtained; and, in a few minutes, haying previously informed his family of the expedition he was about to be engaged in, Archy re-appeared, mounted on a rough, shaggy, but hardy-looking little animal, a shepherd’s plaid folded about his person, and brandishing a huge cudgel in his right hand, which, as he applied it often and vigorously to the poney’s flanks as he advanced, brought him up to where his employer waited him, at a swinging trot. Having joined company, the travellers now proceeded on their way in silence—a silence which Archy Drummond by no means approved, but which had been strictly enjoined by his employer. After three or four hours pretty hard riding, the stranger and his guide found themselves entering Minchmoor, within a short distance of Philiphaugh, where Montrose was, at the time, encamped with his army. They had not, however, proceeded far on the moor, when they were alarmed by the noise of musketry. On first hearing it, the stranger suddenly reined in his horse, and listened attentively for a few minutes to the firing, when he again pushed forward, remarking to Archy, that it was only Montrose exercising his troops.

"My feth, sir," said Archy, "I’m dootin’ that it’s sic exercise as them that’s engaged in’t ‘ll no like vera weel. That firin’ is far owre irregular to be mere field exercise. There’s fechtin’ there, tak my word for’t; Leslie’s doun upon them, an’ there at it tooth an’ nail, or I’m sairmistaen. I could wad my best forehammer on’t."

To these confident assertions of Archy’s, the stranger made no reply, but rode on; and the former immediately relapsed into the silence which had been enjoined him. In the meantime, however, the firing continued with increasing vigour; and with all the wild irregularity which had at first attracted Archy’s notice, and from which he had so sagaciously drawn the conclusion above recorded—a conclusion which his employer soon found to be but too correct. This was made sufficiently manifest soon after, by the appearance of several flying horsemen from Montrose’s army, who, on coming up to them, hastily informed them, that they had been suddenly and unexpectedly attacked by Leslie; that a total rout of the Royalists had been the consequence, and that they, themselves, expected every moment to see some of Leslie’s dragoons in pursuit of them. On hearing this intelligence, the stranger instantly turned his horse’s head—struck his spurs into his sides, and with-out taking any further notice of his attendant, vigorously, and apparently most cordially, joined in the flight of the fugitives. Archy, however, was not to be baulked in this way. He, too, joined in the race; and, though he had no spurs wherewith to urge his pony’s speed, he applied the huge cudgel he carried with an effect to his sides that soon brought him up with the runaways, who, in a short time afterwards, found themselves, as they had feared, hotly pursued by a party of Leslie’s dragoons. On, on however, the flying horsemen rode; Archy, the while, keeping up with the best of them, till they arrived at a rising ground, which they must necessarily ascend, when the stranger, finding his horse jaded and worn out with the weight it carried, unequal to the task, flung himself from his back--leaving saddle-bags and all behind him in his panic—and earnestly besought Archy to let him have his pony; saying, that if he was taken by the enemy, he would certainly be put to death; while Archy, who was in no way concerned with either party, had nothing to fear. Moved by this appeal—and we will not say, altogether unswayed by certain sudden, but indistinct thoughts that began to occur to him regarding the saddle-bags, which their owner evinced every intention of deserting—Archy readily complied with his request; and leaping from his pony, which the former lost no time in mounting, he transferred himself to the richly laden, but now almost useless steed of the stranger, and endeavoured to urge him on, but in vain. The poor, worn-out animal could scarcely draw one leg after another. In this awkward predicament, deserted by his late associates--every one of whom, stranger and all, had disappeared—and hard pressed by the pursuing horsemen, Archy adroitly took advantage of the fortuitous circumstances that presented themselves at this moment, and promised to favour some rather delicate designs which he had formed on the saddle-bags. Getting out of sight of the dragoons, by turning the base of a hill, and finding there a deep pool of water, he canted the saddle-bags into it. This done, he left the horse to shift for himself—took to the hill, and clambered up, through a series of steep and rocky places, where no horseman could possibly follow him, easily baffled the pursuit of the troopers, who, indeed, never got another sight of him.

On the third night after the occurrence of these circumstances, and in the dead of the night, Archy Drummond arrived at his own house, seen by no one; and, for about a year subsequently, went on precisely in his usual way; wrought occasionally in his smithy—indeed, very nearly, but certainly, not quite so much as before; and dressed and lived exactly after his former fashion. And, pray, what of all this? Why should he have done otherwise? Really, we do not very well know. We had rather decline speaking out, however. But, let us go on. At the end of about a year, mark, it began to be observed by Archy’s neighbours that a gradual improvement was taking place in his circumstances—and greatly did they wonder how it came about, for there were no known or visible reasons, for such a change. We do not, by any means, say that the circumstance we are about to mention had any connection with Archy’s mysterious prosperity; but it is a fact that he was always, during the whole of his subsequent life, particularly shy of speaking of his adventure with the Earl of Traquair—for it was no other, and no less a personage, whom Archy conducted towards Philiphaugh; and it is certain, also, that he, on no occasion, ever made the slightest allusion to the saddle bags; much less, did he ever mention that they were filled, as they actually were, with good hard dollars, to the amount of some thousand pounds.

Certain it is, that everything about and belonging to Archy Drummond gradually began to exhibit signs of prosperity, and that the smith of Plumtrees died a wealthy man. Leaving our readers to draw their own conclusions, we finish our tale by saying that the saddle-bags and the dollars were never heard tell of after Archy threw them into the pool.


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