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Wilson's Border Tales
Falsehood Reproved


The following anecdote of the Rebellion was at one time current in Maxwellton, and generally believed.—A widow of the name of Janet Brown, residing there, some connection of the Orchardtowns in the Stewartry, thought that she could not do justice to the love she bore the "bonny Prince" otherwise than by sending her son—a young man, a slater by trade, and called John after his father, who followed the same occupation—to fight for the descendant of our old kings, and help to place him on the throne. The young man, who neither felt the enthusiasm, nor could perceive the rationale of the feeling with which his mother was inspired, felt no great love for the task; but, having been bribed by a small sum of money given him by Sir Thomas Maxwell, and blown up with large hopes of rising to eminence in the event of the Prince’s success, he agreed to put on the bonnet and badge, and to "follow Prince Charlie."

The new-born valour of the slater, like that of all the artisans who espoused the same cause, was destined to a severe trial and a rapid decrease. At the battle of Culloden he fought at first with some spirit, and then fled, leaving all his accoutrements, with the exception of a small dagger, which he retained for the purpose of self-defence, in a field not far from the scene of his disgrace. The impetus of terror had been so strong, that he had gone over a score of miles before he began to reflect on the best means of escaping from his foes; and now he was satisfied that the advantage he possessed from the nature of his occupation—the capability of walking or sleeping on the house tops, like the Pharisees of old—might be turned into the means of his salvation. Without stopping he hurried on to Maxwellton, where he arrived about nightfall, and his familiarity with the roof of the house where his mother lived—occupying only a small garret, from the necessity of her limited means--suggested that situation as the best calculated for concealment, until the rage of pursuit was over, and he could again follow his ordinary avocations.

Getting unobserved to the back of the house, he, by means of a skylight, which opened from the top of the circular staircase, got to the roof, where he felt himself perfectly at home, and in the enjoyment of as much security as if he had been in the back settlements of America. By taking off his shoes, and walking lightly along the slates, he could look down on his aged mother, who was, doubtless, occupied with thoughts of her son, who was fighting at Culloden, or perhaps lying dead on the bloody field; but Brown knew the nature of his parent too well to entrust her with the secret of his place of concealment—a fact which she would have told instantly to her neighbours, with that addition which would have made it go like wildfire, that it was a great success, and was not to be divulged. His self-denial in this repect was, however, wonderful, considering that he had scarcely tasted meat since he came from Culloden, and was, therefore, labouring under hunger, cold, and fatigue, all of which might have been removed or ameliorated, by the assistance of his mother, and the refuge of her dwelling, into which he might have descended through the skylight. If she was ignorant of his proceedings, he was as ignorant of hers; for she had been, during the day and evening, busily engaged in making the people believe that her son had not engaged actively for the Prince, but had repented and returned to his allegiance to King George.

Several officers from Dumfries had called at her house with a view to catch the rebel, and at the very moment when Brown was looking deliberately down through the skylight window, calculating how he could reach with his dagger a tempting loaf of bread that lay on a shelf, he saw enter a sheriff’s beagle, who soon engaged with his parent in earnest conversation. The officer insisted that her son was in the house, and she, though a godly woman, not only denied that he was there, but alleged (laying her hand on her big Bible) that he had never engaged in the Rebellion at all. This act, on the part of his parent, astonished the son; his mother had told a lie, though all the energies of her life had been directed towards inculcating good principles in her son, and, above all, a love of strict truth in everything he said or did. So much had he been impressed with the importance of veracity, that he himself, if taken, would not have denied (even if that would have saved him) that he had been in the rebel ranks; and yet the very parent who had done him good service, had swerved from her own principles, and sealed a lie by an appeal to holy writ. The circumstance could only be accounted for by the love she bore to him; but it is not too much to say, that it produced to him as much uneasiness as his own danger.

Continuing his examination, he saw the officer depart; and, in a short time afterwards, the good widow, on retiring to bed, required to perform her evening devotion. She got upon her knees for this purpose; but the pangs of remorse, for the falsehood she had told, prevented her for a time from uttering her prayer. At the last she succeeded in getting utterance, and began to ask forgiveness of heaven for the great sin she had committed that night, in denying that her son had engaged in the Rebellion; she then proceeded to return thanks for the daily bread with which, notwithstanding of her sins, she had been blessed; and strongly and with tears, declared her utter unworthiness of the gift. She had proceeded so far, when, as she turned round her eyes, filled with repentant tears, she saw that very loaf for which she had returned and was still returning thanks, in the act of gradually moving from the shelf towards the skylight, and in a moment disappear, without the assistance of mortal hand, or any other lifting or suspending power! In what manner could heaven better declare that her repentance was not registered above?

The gift was taken back to the place from whence it came, because she had lied, and attempted inconsistently to return thanks for that of which she was so unworthy. The celestial light broke in upon her in a moment. Starting to her feet, she flew out of the house; and Brown sat quietly down on the roof to enjoy the loaf, which, with his dagger, he had removed from the shelf for the purpose of allaying his hunger. He remarked that his mother did not return to her house that night; and, suspecting that he was in dangerous quarters, descended in the morning, and removed himself to a greater distance. After the heat of pursuit was over, he returned; and heard, "many a time and oft," his mother relate how heaven had interfered to punish the crime she had committed, in denying, on the faith of holy writ, that her son had been engaged in the ranks of Prince Charles. Brown was too prudent to say a word of the true cause; for, a great lover of truth himself, he was pained by the falsehood of his mother, which had been so strangely cured.


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