To us there are few things
that appear more melancholy or more affecting than the ruins of a deserted
dwelling house which the hand of time has unroofed and laid prostrate.
There is, we think, something impressive, sadly impressive, in its cold,
desolate apartments, now exposed to the rain and the winds of heaven, its
eyeless windows, and dilapidated doorway—nay, there is an interest excited
even by the traces of the fastenings of the cupboard on the wall and of
the fire in the chill, gaping, and ruinous chimney. All, all speak
forcibly of decay, and tell of the transitoriness of the things of this
In contemplating such
scenes as this—and hence, perhaps, the feelings we have alluded to—the
imagination set to work and paints the happy groups that once assembled
around the then cheerful, but now cold and desolate hearth, or recalls the
joyous laugh of the deserted mansion’s young inmates, with all the
hilarious din and bustle of a numerous and happy family; or, mayhap, it
may dwell on the hopes and fears of their elders, now both terminated for
ever. And the reverie is wound up by the sad inquiry—"Where are they all
now?" And the query is answered by a gust of wind rushing, with
melancholy sound, through the deserted apartments, and waving, in its
progress, the long grass and nettles with which they are overgrown.
Nor are we sure that these
feelings and associations are confined to the ruins of houses of note
alone, to the deserted mansions of the great or the wealthy. In our own
case, at any rate, we are certain they are not; for we have felt them all,
and with equal force, when contemplating the ruins of a cottage; and on no
occasion were we more under their influence, than when viewing the remains
of such an humble domicile as that we have alluded to, in the course of an
excursion last summer, through the wilds of Nithsdale But then, we must
confess, there was a story, an affecting one, connected with the lonely
dwelling, which might, nay which must have added to the interest with
which we contemplated its ruins. These ruins, consisting of one gable and
a small portion of the side walls, together with the remains of a low,
loose stone dyke, that once formed the boundary of the little garden, or
kail-yard, which was attached to the house, are situated in a
remote and sequestered spot in the district above named.
At the period of the story
we are now about to relate to our readers, the little cottage of which we
have spoken, was inhabited by a widow woman of the name of Riddel, and an
only child, a son, of about 13 years of age.
Mrs. Riddel’s husband, who
was now dead several years, was a poor but most industrious and pious man,
who wrought at such country work as the neighbourhood afforded. His gains
were, it will readily be believed, but moderate; yet a frugal,
abstemious, and exceedingly temperate life, enabled him to purchase the
cottage he inhabited, with the garden attached to it; and, in time, to add
to these possessions a cow. But, beyond this, the poor but worthy man was
not permitted to increase his store. Death cut short his days, and left
the widow and her son to reap the benefit of his prudence and industry;
and no small matter was this found, when there was none other to assist
them. The cow, the cottage, and the garden were to them great riches. And
thankful to her God was the widow, for the mercies He had bestowed on her;
not the least of which was the happiness she found in her boy, who was to
her all that she could wish. James was indeed, such a son as a mother
might well be proud of. He was mild, dutiful, yet bold and active, and
gave promise of being more than usually handsome. He loved his mother with
the most sincere and devoted affection; and though only in his thirteenth
year, earned nearly the wages of a full grown man; and if any one had seen
the delight and exultation expressed in his eye, as he poured his weekly
wages into his mother’s lap, they would have felt assured that these were
the happiest moments of his life.
Thus, what with the little
property she possessed, and the earnings of her son, Widow Riddel’s lonely
cottage presented as pleasing a picture of comfort, in an humble way, as
might anywhere be seen; nor could two happier beings be found within the
county—we might extend it to the kingdom—than the worthy widow and her
son. But inscrutable are the ways of Providence—dark and inscrutable,
indeed, since they permitted all this humble happiness to be blighted in
an instant, and ruin and desolation to overtake its unoffending
It was on a fine summer
afternoon, in the year 1746, about two months after the battle of
Culloden, that Widow Riddel, as she sat knitting stockings on the little
rustic seat in the garden, which her son had made for her accommodation,
and while the former was busily employed beside her in putting some seeds
into the ground, happening to look down into the little strath or valley
that lay almost immediately below the cottage, saw what was to her a very
unusual and alarming sight. This was a party of dragoons. She had heard
much of the cruelties and atrocities that had been perpetrated by the
Government troops, on the persons and properties of the insurgents, whose
hopes had been laid prostrate at Culloden; and she was not ignorant of the
military despotism which generally prevailed over the kingdom in
consequence of that victory. But she had yet to learn, and the lesson was
now to be taught her by fearful experience, how indiscriminating was the
vengeance of the ruthless and sanguinary ruffians, to whom the power of
inflicting chastisement had been entrusted.
On observing the soldiers,
Widow Riddel immediately called her son’s attention to them, and wondered
where they could be going to.
This was soon made plain
enough. In a moment after, she herself exclaimed—"Mercy on us, Jamie!
they’re comin’ here. What in a’ the earth can they be wantin?"
Next minute, the dragoons
were in front of the cottage; when one of them dismounted, and advancing
towards the widow, inquired if there were any rebels skulking there abouts.
"Oh, no, sir, no," replied
the terrified woman, "there’s naebody o’ that kind in this quarter, I
"Well, well, so much the
better, good woman, for both you and them; but, I say, we’re starving of
hunger, old girl, can ye let’s have something to eat?"
"Blithely, sir, blithely,"
rejoined poor Mrs. Riddel, delighted to find matters taking so amicable a
turn. "I haena muckle, sirs, but ye’re welcome to what I hae." And she
bustled into the cottage, and with the assistance of her son, brought out
a quantity of oaken cakes, cheese and sweet milk, on which the soldiers
made a hearty meal.
Now, after this kindness of
the widow, or even without it, into whose head or heart, but that of an
incarnate fiend, or monster in human shape, could it have entered to do
her a mischief? Yet such a wretch was amongst the troopers who now
surrounded her humble dwelling, and had partaken of her hospitality. Just
before the party started, the ruffian who first addressed Mrs. Riddel,
asked her, with an effected air of kindness, how she lived.
"Indeed, sir," replied the
unsuspecting widow, "the bit cow there," pointing to the animal that was
grazing at a little distance, "an’ the bit garden, wi’ what the laddie can
earn, is a’ that I hae to depend upon; but wi’ God’s blessing, it’s eneuch,
an’ we are sincerely thankfu."
To this affecting detail of
her humble resources, the villain made no reply; but drew a pistol from
his holster, and riding up to the poor woman’s cow, discharged it through
her head, when the animal instantly fell down dead. Not satisfied with
this heartless atrocity, the ruffian leaped the little garden wall, with
his horse, and deliberately trode down every grown thing it contained; and
those that the feet of his charger could not reach, he destroyed with his
Having completed this
unnameable villany, the monster rejoined his comrades, laughing and
shouting out as he went, in exultation at the deed.
"There, you old devil," he
exclaimed—"that will put it out of your power to harbour any rascally
rebels, or, if you do, they and you must starve."
In an instant afterwards
the party rode off, laughing heartily at the mischief done by their
comrade, of which they all seemed to approve.
It would be a vain task to
attempt to depict the distress and misery of the bereaved widow, when she
found herself thus suddenly deprived of her all. This scene is better left
to the imagination of the reader. Wringing her hands in bitter agony, she
rushed into the house, and flung herself on her bed, where she gave way to
the sorrow that overwhelmed her. From that bed she never again rose. A
violent illness, the consequence of dreadfully excited and agitated
feelings, seized her, and in a few days terminated her existence.
During her illness, her
poor boy never left her bedside. There he remained night and day,
endeavouring to cheer the spirits of his dying parent, and to make her
look lightly on the misfortunes that had befallen them.
"Dinna, mother—dinna tak it
sae much to heart. Never mind it, mother," he would say; "I am strong, and
able to work for you, and you shall never want sae lang as I can earn a
penny; and I’ll put the garden into as guid order as ever it was.
It’s no near sae much harmed as ye think, mother; and what’s to hinder me
to buy you a cow by and by, as weel as my faither did. I’ll sune hae as
much wages as he had, and I’m sure I’ll guide it as weel, for your sake."
And, on one occasion, the poor boy, thinking to increase the effects of
the consolation he was administering, added— "And wha kens mother, but I
may yet meet the villain somewhere, and be revenged o’ him for what he has
dune to us!"
At these words, the dying
woman, on whose ear all the rest seemed to have fallen unheard, suddenly
raised herself on her elbow, and looking her son affectionately but
earnestly in the face, said— "My son, speak not of revenge! It is
unbecoming a Christian; and I’m sure such a spirit was never encouraged in
you either by yer worthy faither or by me. Leave vengeance in the hands of
God, Jamie. He will deal with the destroyer in His ain way and in His ain
guid time. Perhaps, my son, the misguided man even now repents o’ what he
has dune; and if he does, you surely would not seek to increase his
punishment, which maun be, in such a case, a-full atonement for a’ that he
had dune; for what pain, Jamie, can equal that of an awakened conscience?"
The boy was silenced by
this reproof; but we can hardly say cleansed of the spirit of revenge
which had been kindled in his youthful bosom against the authors of their
On the following day, the
widow expired; and on the fourth thereafter, her son followed her remains
to the grave. But he returned not again. At the conclusion of the ceremony
he suddenly disappeared, and no one knew whither he had gone. Days, weeks,
months, and years passed away; but no intelligence ever reached the
neighbourhood of what destiny had befallen the orphan boy.
Thirteen years after this,
the famous battle of Minden was fought by Prince Ferdinand against the
French. True? but what has that to do with the story of the widow and her
Patience, good reader, and
you shall hear. Associated with the army of Prince Ferdinand, there was a
large body of British horse under Lord George Sackville: and these shared
in the dangers and glory of the victory. On the evening of the day on
which the battle was fought, a party of these dragoons were assembled in
the taverns, where they were boasting loudly in their cups, of the feats
they had performed, when one of them, striking the table fiercely with his
clenched fist, swore, that, when he was in Scotland, he had done a more
meritorious thing than any of them.
"What was that Tom—what was
that?" shouted out his companions at once.
"Why, starving an old witch
in Nithsdale, to be sure," replied the fellow. "We first, you see—for
there was a party of us—ate up all she had, and then I paid the reckoning
by shooting her cow, and riding down her greens."
"And don’t you repent it?"
exclaimed a young soldier, suddenly rising from his seat at the upper end
of the apartment, and approaching the speaker, as he put the question.
"Don’t you repent it?"
"Repent what?" said the
ruffian, fiercely. "Repent such a matter as that! No, I glory in it."
"Then villain!" said the
youth, unsheathing his sword— "know that that woman was my mother; and
since you do not repent the deed, you shall die for it. Draw and defend
The dragoon sprang to his
feet—a combat ensued; and after two or three passes, the latter was
stretched lifeless on the floor.
"Had you repented," said
the youth, looking towards the corpse as he sheathed his sword, "I would
have left you in the hands of your God; but since you did not, I have made
myself the instrument of his vengeance."
Young Riddel afterwards
rose to the rank of captain in the British service, and greatly
distinguished himself in the German wars.